This week we are pleased to welcome back staff from the WRL Circulation Services Division to BFGB. Today’s review comes from Mandy Malone, who opens the week with an exciting and thought-provoking thriller.
Upon finishing The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I set the book aside, shook my head, and muttered my frustration with Stieg Larsson. Not because I was unhappy with the book, far from it. Rather, I was caught off guard by how much the novel engaged me on an intellectual level, and how reaching the last page filled me with an unexpected sense of loss and despair – a reaction I don‘t typically have when I read a book. I could only react with bemused frustration towards the author who evoked such emotions.
Set in Larsson’s native Sweden, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo begins with a premise that seems simple enough, at least on the surface. For more than 40 years, an octogenarian industrialist named Henrik Vanger has been haunted by the disappearance of his beloved great-niece Harriet. Vanger is convinced that Harriet was murdered and he wants to make one last effort to solve the mystery. He asks Mikael Blomkvist, an outspoken journalist recently convicted of libel, to reexamine the case and, hopefully, find the solution. Blomkvist is skeptical about the case, but in addition to a handsome fee, the bait Vanger dangles before him makes the offer too good to pass up. Vanger has information that will enable Blomkvist to clear himself in the libel case. As Blomkvist’s investigation proceeds, he crosses paths with Lisbeth Salander, whose backstory forms the other part of the narrative. Salander, who may be one of the most compelling anti-heroines of contemporary literature, is a 24-year-old pierced and tattooed genius computer hacker who works as a researcher for a security company. She’s also sullen and almost pathologically antisocial and has been under court ordered guardianship since she was a teenager. The character is frequently compared to a disturbing Pippi Longstocking. Together, Blomkvist and Salander uncover a legacy of dark family secrets with links to a series of unsolved murders, untangle a complicated web of financial corruption, and forge a unique personal connection.
Aside from Larsson’s complex plot and characters, what I found myself contemplating long after I finished the book were its themes of free will and personal responsibility, particularly when it comes to criminal activity. Larsson’s villains commit horrific acts, and Blomkvist and Salander are often at odds as to whether or not an offender’s behavior is shaped by their background. Blomkvist believes that criminal behavior is largely influenced by societal forces and/or upbringing; Salander vehemently disagrees, believing that wrongdoing is a matter of choice regardless of the offender‘s background. “It’s as if we no longer believe anyone has a will of their own,” she says at one point. While Salander herself exacts revenge on certain characters in the novel, she only targets those who commit evil acts. I like it when a book offers themes I can really sink my teeth into, and I was pleasantly surprised I found it with this book.
Larsson died after completing this book and two sequels, The Girl who Played with Fire and The Girl who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest (due out in June 2010).
Check the WRL catalog for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo