Occasionally, here at Bookeater HQ, we like to have two different people review the same book. Often, the opinions given are very different.
We were a bit surprised at their opinions- one of them loved it, the other didn’t. Can you guess which?
This is a brilliantly written book – well researched, complex with a gripping plot and deeply intriguing characters.
The story begins simply enough with Swedish journalist Carl Mikael Blomkvist indicted for libel for an article he wrote based on false information. Was his informant deliberately misinforming or was the material innocently provided but factually inaccurate? This court case forms the basis for a novel which tackles issues of power, corruption, justice and innocence whilst also drawing a reader into frightening interwoven mysteries.
The main characters are Mikael Blomkvist who, following the court case, is commissioned to write a family history of the Vanger family. Henrik Vanger, who is head of the Vanger Corporation, tormented by the loss of a cherished niece decades earlier and convinced that a member of his family has committed murder. And enigmatic Lisbeth Salander, the girl with the dragon tattoo, who assists Blomkist in his investigations with her outstanding skills as a computer hacker.
Among the darker themes of this book sexual violence towards women and insights into venal corrupt minds are thought provoking and disturbing elements of the narrative. I felt that these aspects, along with the rest of the book, had been thoroughly researched and not gratuitously included. Notwithstanding, overall it is a compelling read and worthy of the concentration required.
This book created much excitement when it was originally published in Sweden in 2005 under the title “Men who hate women”. While that sums up the central theme of the story, it portrays women as objects on the receiving end of mans’ brutality. The British title in contrast gives a different impression. A girl, with a tattoo that symbolises primal forces, that is associated with the image of those Viking ‘dragon ships’ which struck fear into the hearts of those about to be invaded; this girl, it says, is not a victim but a force to be reckoned with, this girl is powerful. This girl is Lisbeth Salander, private investigator and hacker
As it is with the two titles so it is with the views of the book. Some people find it exploitative of women, a dark, ugly portrayal of how men abuse them and how prevalent masochism and sexual deviation is in Swedish society. Others read this and champion its main female protagonist as superhuman, courageous and brilliant and they herald the revenge she takes on her abuser. She is multi-skilled, resilient, amoral, angry and driven, with just a hint of a softer, more vulnerable person inside.
The story centres on an investigation into the disappearance of a girl 40 years earlier and the complicated web of family relationships and secrets that must be unravelled to find the truth. Major subplots included a journalist’s battle to clear his name and expose corporate corruption, and Salander’s troubled past and unconventional life.
I found it a compulsive read, intricate and engrossing and I felt compelled to devour its sequels immediately I finished it. However I can categorically say that I don’t like it. Its theme is oppressive and the violence, particularly the sexual violence is not glossed over. I don’t know what I expected when my (then 76 year old) mother told me excitedly that it was ‘fantastic’ and an absolute ‘must’, but it certainly changed my idea of what to buy her for Christmas.
I know I will read the trilogy again because of Lisbeth Salander, a character so intriguing that she immediately spawned a host of books and articles each trying to analyse her and pigeon hole her, yet is her unquantifiable nature that make the books such a draw.