“She was perfectly content as long as people left her in peace. Unfortunately society was not very smart or understanding.”
Publishers advised Joanne “Jo” Rowling to use two initials instead of her real name because they feared boys wouldn’t read a book written by a woman.
More recently, and closer home, someone I know refused to read The Girl On The Train just because it was written by a woman. This is someone who usually holds my book recommendations in high regard.
These snippets tell you a little about the world we live in, don’t they? But how are they relevant to the book I’m reviewing today? Because nearly every person who recommended The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo to me is male. The exact same book, same plot, same words could have been written by a female author, and these same people might have very well dismissed it as a rant. Why? Because this book comes down hard on crimes against women. It does so in the sharpest, yet most chilling way possible.
The original Swedish title of this book, when translated to English, reads “Men Who Hate Women”. At first glance, that might sound like an outrageous, MRA title, because a book generally favours those mentioned in the title, or so we’re conditioned to believe. For instance, if a book is titled “Men Who Made History” or some such, you’d automatically assume the book is a favourable commentary on the lives of these men. However, Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (or Men Who Hate Women) contains some of the angriest, most violent commentary against misogyny and hate crimes. Let’s discuss the story, shall we?
Summary: On his 82nd birthday, Henrik Vanger, former CEO of the Vanger Corporation, receives a framed flower, Leptospermum (Myrtaceae) rubinette. It is revealed that he has been receiving these for years, always on his birthday. He is convinced that the murderer of his niece is sending them to him to taunt him, as she once gave him the same flower before her disappearance and suspected demise in 1966. He has been obsessed about her disappearance ever since.
Mikael Blomkvist, a famous journalist and founder of the Millennium magazine is convicted of libel against Hans Erik Wennerstrom, a rich crook against whom Millennium did an expose of sorts (I kept imagining Trump) but were unable to provide evidence. He co-founded the magazine with Erika Berger, a former classmate and occasional lover. Post discussions with her, he steps down from Millennium’s board.
During this time, Henrik’s lawyer has asked for an investigation to be performed on Blomkvist, because he wants to hire him to solve the mystery of his niece’s disappearance. The investigation is performed by the other protagonist of this story, Lisbeth Salander, a twenty-four year old hacker with a terribly troubled past.
Blomkvist, albeit reluctantly at first, accepts Henrik’s assignment. After a certain course of events, Blomkvist decides to meet Salander when he finds out she is the one who performed an investigation on him. He also discovers she has hacked into his laptop. Soon after, they become partners and try to solve the case together. They unearth several skeletons in the Vanger closet, and compile a list of murders and hate crimes against women that took place around the same time Harriet Vanger disappeared (give or take a decade). Do they solve the mystery? You’ll have to read the book to find out!
In short, this 465 page book has everything – half of the Vangers were Nazis, the remaining half were torturers of all other kinds imaginable. Nearly all the women have been subjected to domestic violence, rape, every crime possible, and yet, most of them emerged stronger (not a spoiler) (also, the book is divided into 4 parts, and each part gives you a statistic about violence against women). There’s politics, journalism and an intriguing financial crime drama. And of course, the whodunit plot that holds the whole thing together. It’s all intertwined into a seamless fabric.
That said, the book isn’t without its faults – some of the things seemed too convenient (for example, Blomkvist became famous on the basis of a hunch he had about some bank robbers). In some places, Larsson seemed to be trying too hard to push the point of strong women (to go back to how this review began, Blomkvist reads only novels by women authors). Not that this is a bad thing, but it sounds like he’s gone beyond driving home a point, that he just wants it drilled into people’s heads (why am I complaining? From a purely literary standpoint, of course). While I loved how all the various plot points closed, I felt Salander’s bit was a little cliched. But this one’s just me.
Overall, I give this book a 4.5 and recommend it to everyone. Be warned though, there is some disturbing content, and some scenes of brutality.
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PS: This review only covers the first book of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy.