Some final thoughts on the book:
I have rarely read a long mystery or thriller that didn't at least sag just a little bit in the middle, but this one does not. It does take a while for the central story to begin but once it does start rolling it never slows down until the almost disappointingly short climax is reached and the long denouement begins.
That he was able to keep the reader's attention through a slow background setting and introduction of characters the length of a short novel and a denouement that is an almost self-contained story the length of a novella, shows that Stieg Larsson was a master of the craft of writing. This is a first novel but it shows no signs of firstbookitis, which isn't really surprising because Larsson was a veteran journalist and therefore an experienced writer. That he was a reader is obvious. Apart from the references to Astrid Lindgren that suffuse the story in the characters of Mikael and Lisbeth (who are his speculations on what Kalle Blomkvist and Pippi Longstocking would be like as adults), his love of literature shows in nods and references to other writers, and several are mentioned by name.
The narrative is an interesting mixture of stark Scandinavian realism (e.g. the commentary on the Swedish social system) and a traditional mystery/thriller where realism takes second place to telling a good story, and the shifting between the two is seamless.
Several predictions I had made about the story turned out to be right, including The Big Twist, which I predicted as soon as the old man had told Mikael what he wanted him to do. I was likewise able to pinpoint the villain fairly quickly, but that doesn't mean this is a bad mystery – it just means the author plays fair with the reader. Kudos for that.
I‘m looking forward to reading the next book in the series, but I may have to read the English translation because I am not sure I want to wait for the Icelandic one to find out what happens next.
One thing I did wonder about is the title of the book. Not the original Swedish title or the Icelandic one which is a direct translation of the original, but the English one. The original title translates into English as Men Who Hate Women, but in English the title is changed into The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which shifts the focus of the title from the villains to one of the protagonists, who is herself a victim of just the kind of misogynist the original title focuses on.
Then I had a conversation with a woman I work with, and she mentioned the book, telling me that because of the title she thought it was a self-help book or a sociological study of misogyny when she first saw it. ”Aha! “ I thought, “so that‘s why!”
On further reflection I decided that the title change in English probably was made to make the book appeal to a bigger audience rather than to avoid it being thought to be something it is not. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is undeniably a more appealing title because it implies mystery with sensual undertones, contrary to Men Who Hate Women which just implies brute violence.
I have decided not to write a regular review, as my journal notes include most of what I would have written in a review. To make it easier to follow, just click on the „girl with the dragon tattoo“ label below this post and you will be able so see all the entries in the journal on one page with no intervening posts in between.
Author: Stieg Larsson
Original Swedish title: Män som hatar kvinnor
English title: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Published: 2005 (Sweden); 2008 (English translation)
Awards: The Glass Key (Scandinavian crime award), 2006; Exclusive Books Boeke Prize (S-Africa), 2008; ITV3 Crime Thriller Awards, International Author of the Year, 2008.
I will end with : This is not a book for the squeamish. The violence is not of the stylised kind, but is extremely realistic. This includes a couple of rape scenes that are all the more harrowing because they are described from the victim‘s point of view. They are also liable to make women who read them very angry. After the second one I was seriously tempted to throw the book at the wall in anger and leave it unfinished, but I'm glad I didn't, because it turned out that the violence was a necessary factor in the personality development of the character it happened to.