I had a wonderful time reading Stieg Larsson’s popular novels “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (or “Men Who Hate Women”, which is the proper translation), “The Girl Who Played with Fire,” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.” I missed the books’ biggest wave of popularity some ten years ago when everyone was reading them, but I’m sure I enjoyed them now just as much as I would have then.
I read that Stieg Larsson had a horrible experience when he was young of witnessing a gang rape, and that probably left a deep mark which led him to write a book about men who hate women and a strong woman who wouldn’t stand for it.
Lizbet Salander is that strong woman with an appearance that completely rebuts her mental set. She is short, thin and frail, but with goth decorations all over her body in the form of piercings, dark makeup and leather clothes that hint at her toughness. She is quiet, antisocial and difficult to read, but to counteract the darkness of her inner world and the silence with which she alienates the outer world, there’s an expressive tattoo of a dragon plastered across her whole back. She’s got other smaller tattoos on her body as well, as reminders of certain events in her life that she doesn’t want to forget.
Then there’s Mikael Blomkvist, a restless journalist who is driven by two things: unfaltering desire to bring justice to crooked, corrupted businessmen and an unconstrained indulgence in casual relationships with women.
What starts as an unsolved mystery of a missing girl will turn into a monstrous tale of decades-long torture of women, and that’s where Lizbet and Mikael meet. He with his amazing research skills and sharp mind, she with her fascinating hacking talent, photographic memory and an even sharper mind, will solve the mystery of one very sick family in the first book of the trilogy, and then go on to solve an even bigger crime involving people from the highest ranks of the Swedish society.
What I like about “Millennium,” apart from the very exciting, page-turning story, is Stieg Larsson’s journalistic style, stripped of unnecessary emotion and very factual. I like how he takes his time to describe his character’s movements, how he confidently writes about their eating habits, chewing on sandwiches, gazing out the window, smoking, even if nothing else happens on that particular page. He’s not rushing to get to the “action” and enjoys spending time with his creations, the feeling that then naturally passes on to the reader.
I also loved getting to know Stockholm and life in Sweden through details that might have been interesting only to me. For example, I remember it came as a surprise when a character in the third book who works for the Swedish Security Service and holds a position that I suppose is pretty well-paid remarked that she can’t go out to dinner another night in a row – her budget dictates that she mostly eats at home. Even in Serbia we can eat out a few nights a week (assuming it’s some low-key or fast food restaurant), so this was quite a shocker.
Another thing I noticed is that they eat A LOT of sandwiches. All throughout all three books the characters are only eating sandwiches and drinking crazy amounts of coffee. One particular type of sandwich that sounded weird and I’d like to try myself is a toast with a slice of cheese and orange marmalade. Yum or yuck, not sure.
There are not too many descriptions of actual buildings, houses and nature, but Stieg Larsson went into, for me, unnecessarily exhaustive detail about every street that every character ever took in this book series. I even learned the word for “street” in Swedish, just because of the so many street names that end with “gatan”: Lundagatan, Hornzgatan, St. Paulzgatan, Jetgatan, etc. Though so many Stockholm streets had to be mentioned by name in “Millennium”, in the end I found it successful in making me feel the mood and setting of Sweden and this crime story even better.
I won’t retell the tale of what happens to Liz in the second and third book, when she confronts her past and drags Mikael and all his colleagues into it as well. I’m just sad I read the books so quickly, though I’m sure it’s impossible to do differently.
And final thought that I’ll leave my readers with is the one that has to do with politics of the book. Many people, especially after seeing the movies, remarked how Stieg Larsson is harshly criticizing and exposing the monstrosities of the Swedish society. I didn’t really get the impression he was criticizing Sweden any more than any other place where violence happens. Perhaps he was pointing out the discrepancy between wealth and what really goes on in such blessed society, but wealth or no wealth, humans are what they are.