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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a psychological thriller, and the first in the Millennium series of novels by Stieg Larsson. The primary characters in the books are Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander; the former, an investigate journalist and publisher of the magazine Millennium, and the latter a twenty something single woman with an amazing photographic memory. Their relationship is unconventional and intriguing, and Lisbeth’s somewhat quirky personality and disturbing history brings with it an abundance of interest to the stories.
Set in 2002, the book opens with Mikael Blomkvist losing a libel case against billionaire Hans-Erik Wennerström, and as a result he is sentenced to time in prison and ordered to pay damages and costs. Soon afterwards Blomkvist is invited to meet with the retired CEO of the Vanger Corporation, Henrik Vanger who promises him evidence against Wennerström in return for discovering what happened to Vanger’s grandniece, Harriet, who disappeared in 1966. Blomkvist moves to the island in order to research the Vanger family history and it is from there that we find out more about the Vanger family history and also learn much more about Blomkvist’s character and personal traits. When Blomkvist sees the intial report that Vanger had produced on him, a report prepared by Lisbeth Salander, he invites her to work with him on the investigation. Their relationship develops throughout the book, and whilst sexual at times, there is still some emotional distance between the two of them. A third party in the love triangle derails Salander’s plans to declare her love for Blomkvist and she pursues it no further. Not one to give up on a investigative challenge, Salander continues to pursue and monitor Wennerström under a series of guises and anonymously tips off a Miami lawyer of his whereabouts. I won’t spoil the ending for you!
It’s a griping read and whilst starting off with the single investigation in to the disappearance of Harriet Vanger it quickly morphs in to a much wider tale of intrigue, family woes and murder and also explores more deeply the private lives of Blomkvist and Salander. It’s totally engaging, extremely detailed and the characters and their complexities will stay with you for a long time after you finish the book. However, it does come with a warning from me that all scenes are explained in minute detail, from the scenery to what people are eating, through to the graphic abuse scenes, Larsson leaves very little to the imagination. If this is not something that you are open to or willing to hear about then I would suggest that this book isn’t for you.
The reviews that I have seen and heard from friends are mixed. I would say, based on my experience, that the majority of people are leaning towards positive comments, but there are some people who just don’t get it. It’s not for everyone, but you might want to give it a try.
Background Information & Context
Unfortunately, Stieg Larsson died in 2004 aged just 50. He had written the first three books, and whilst it was believed that he intended ten books in the series only the first three were published, posthumously. Originally published in Swedish and eventually in English for the UK and US, the names of the first and third books were changed for the English market. Something that Larsson apparently forbid the Swedish publishers to do. The first three books, in Swedish and English are:
- Män som hatar kvinnor (Men who hate women), 2005 – The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2008 UK)
- Flickan som lekte med elden (The girl who played with fire), 2006 – The Girl Who Played With Fire (2009 UK)
- Luftslottet som sprängdes (The air castle that was blown up), 2007 – The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest (2009 UK)
Larsson left a partially completed fourth novel on his computer, now owned by his partner, Eva Gabrielsson.
In 2013 a fourth novel was comissioned. Written by David Lagercrantz, the book was published in 2015 to co-incide with the 10 year anniversary of the series. Titled Det som inte dödar oss (That which does not kill us) in Swedish and published as The Girl In The Spider’s Web in the UK.
Despite writing the fourth book, Lagercrantz did not have access to the materials left by Stieg Larsson. It is believed that there is more material that just the beginning of the fourth novel, and who knows whether we will see more books in the series, penned by Eva Gabrielsson. Only time will tell.