The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is the first novel in Stieg Larsson's stunningly popular Millennium trilogy. Tattoo was first published in Sweden under Larsson's original title Män som hatar kvinnor, or Men Who Hate Women, in 2005.
The trilogy has sold almost thirty million copies, in over forty countries (source), and has so far spawned a trilogy of Swedish films. Columbia Pictures has the North American movie rights, so look out for the Hollywood versions (source). Posthumous awards (that's right, Larsson's dead – more on that in a minute) from Sweden, South Africa, and the UK, to name a few, are piling up as we speak (or, rather, as we write).
This high-tech thriller introduces the trilogy's stars: journalist/lady lover Mikael Blomkvist and the girl with the dragon tattoo herself, vigilante-hacktivist-PI Lisbeth Salander. Tattoo is the story of how Salander and Blomkvist uncover an epic international financial fraud, two serial killers, and solve the 36-year-old mystery of a missing 16-year-old girl. All the while, Salander battles her sadistic social worker, hacks up a storm, and struggles to keep her mysterious past…mysterious.
As you might have heard, Larsson died of a heart attack in 2004, after he'd delivered the finished trilogy to his Swedish publisher Norstedts, but before his work was published. He started writing the trilogy just two years prior while on vacation with Eva Gabrielsson, Larsson's romantic partner of over thirty years (source). Apparently he wrote detective stories for fun and relaxing relief from his "real" job.
And what was that real job? Fighting crime, folks, and exposing corruption. Larsson was an expert in and activist against neo-Nazism, fascism, and violence against women. He was editor-in-chief of Expo, part of the Expo Foundation. The foundation was "established in order to counteract the growth of the extreme right and the white power-culture in schools and among young people" (source). These issues do make their ways into Larsson's novel, to be sure. And Tattoo even has its own version of Expo, which was called Millennium.
Since neo-Nazis were constantly threatening Larsson's life, he needed to keep his whereabouts on the down-low. Eva Gabrielsson says she and Larsson never married for that reason. Swedish married couples are required to post their address as a matter of public record, and Larsson and Gabrielsson needed to keep their address secret. Larsson didn't leave behind a completed will, and his entire estate went to his father and brother, excluding Gabrielsson. The matter is still in dispute, and probably will be for a while (source).
Gabrielsson is in possession of a partial draft of the fourth installment of the Salander-Blomkvist novels (he planned for nine or ten) and Larsson's computer, papers, and notes. She might even have some of those old detective stories he wrote for rest and relaxation. But this material probably won't see the light of day, so long as the parties remain in conflict (source).
Larsson's death and subsequent fame has also brought forth his detractors. Anders Hellberg, who worked with Larsson as a journalist in the early days, says Larsson was such a crappy writer he couldn't possibly have written the trilogy. Hellberg doesn't know who did, but says that Eva Gabrielsson is a likely candidate. Like Eva Gabrielsson, Kurdo Baksi (Larsson's friend and colleague at Expo) has written a biography of Larsson, and defends him unwaveringly. When asked about the allegations that Larsson was a second-rate journalist and an inadequate writer, Baksi says, "Many people are angry. [Larsson] is a god in Sweden" (source). Now, on to this Swedish god's novel!
Why Should I Care?
So, why have readers been shelling out the big bucks to the bookstores, stealing copies from libraries, and running out to have dragons tattooed on their bodies? Well, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo has something for almost everyone, and we don't say that too often. If you're a fan of, say, Freakonomics and Superfreakonomics or The Economist, you'll be instantly taken in by the details of Swedish financial history and financial flimflammery.
If your reaction is, "Boring. Where's the girl with the dragon tattoo?" Just you wait. There's drama, vengeance, murder, mystery, money-stealing, tattooing, and even a bit of romance. There're rogue forces taking on law-eluding criminals, killers, and corrupt people in power. There's lots of fun with technology, and lots of hacking.
Lisbeth Salander, star of this show, is what some might call a "hacktivist" – a computer genius who hacks for social justice. But, does Lisbeth always use her talent for good? Is she a dangerous vigilante criminal or is she an agent of justice who has to use violence and thievery to make the world a safer place? It is up to you, dear readers, to decide these lofty issues.
And here's a tip: Don't get tripped up by the complicated Vanger family genealogy. Everything will come together. Just sit back and relax and try to guess who did what to Harriet Vanger to make her go missing 36 years ago. Or, if you're into that kind of thing, dig into life of this troubled and successful family worthy of a long-running soap opera. And if all that isn't enough, this book explores the basics – friendship, relationships, trust, kindness, and how hard it can be to form intimacy in this hard world. Like we said, something for everyone!