Steig Larsson

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

(Book 1 of the Millennium trilogy)



Oddly I read ‘Played With Fire’ first, but on the strength of that went back to the insanely popular original. Having been burnt before I’m a bit shy of blockbusters, but this is a different league to, say, a Tom Clancy. Despite extreme characters (murderers, Nazis, captains of industry, super-hackers, celebrity journalists), Larsson manages to keep relative plausibility for this genre, and supposedly smart characters don’t generally do stupid things. Consider the spell woven: even though I had some pretty serious spoilers from having read the sequel, I still was thoroughly engaged: as a thriller is meant to, it got me in. In hindsight I’m not exactly sure how: the characters are generally as cold and spare as the northern Swedish setting. There’s nothing playful or warm, and just about all the characters are pretty meticulous. It fits that most of the times we meet the killer he is articulate and controlled, and even his barbarities are painstakingly organised and carefully categorised in a separate section to his public life. This lack of emotion and obsessive order became more clear to me when, coincidentally, I watched part of one of the movie versions which happened to be broadcast a few days after I’d finished the book. I wondered how well this would work as film with everyone so stark, controlled and emotionless. Yet the book is not merely an intellectual exercise: Larsson punctuates the story with atrocities and apposite vengeance.

There are a few other distinctives, such as the ‘protagonist’ title moving freely between Blomkvist and Salander – again an unusual approach. The contempt for misogyny is unsubtly foregrounded, but there is an odd mix of sympathy for victims and the demand that victims step up and take power back. I enjoyed the way that Larsson drew so much of his story from areas that he was professionally familiar with (cf. David Lodge) – publishing, business journalism, computing, Swedish politics and landscape – so authenticity and even passion were a natural part of the text.

Funny how several of the books that I give a higher rating I have less to say about. I more just know that I was hooked and entertained while reading, and satisfied when I finished – and this is not such a common experience. So nice to not be insulted. Perhaps I’m more wired to have to articulate/purge what grated than what didn’t.

May 2013