Girl/Dragon Tattoo bookThis is without a doubt the most intense book I have ever read (with the possible exception of the rest of the series, since I haven’t finished them all yet). No kidding. I have to say I sincerely regret that Stieg Larsson passed away before his trilogy got the recognition it deserves. There are many bestselling authors who could have learned a lot from him (ahem, I’m talking to you, Stephenie Meyer).

Nevertheless, the acclaim this book has received recently has been well-deserved. I bought it in the winter of 2011 at the airport on the way to Canada, started reading on the plane, and wasn’t able to tear my eyes away the entire time I was in the great white north. More than half a year later, it’s as unforgettable in my mind as the Harry Potter series for a number of reasons.

Let’s start with the journalist, Mikael Blomkvist. He’s one of the central characters and his characterization alone is more complex than the Twilight series in its entirety. He comes off as the meddling do-gooder – and he certainly does have a moral compass that would be the envy of many real-life journalists today – but there are so many more aspects to his personality than that. This in itself is refreshing and quite an accomplishment since it has become so common to create conflict simply by having single-faceted characters who continually clash with each other. He’s openly described as an unscrupulous ladies’ man whose marriage fell apart because he couldn’t keep his hands off one Erika Berger (a married woman herself) who also happens to be his boss. The book begins with his being sentenced to two months in prison for libel, which he completes without a word to his teenage daughter Pernilla, who later surfaces to provide a vital clue to the investigation Blomkvist has taken on and is never thought of again. All this is more than enough to make you raise your eyebrow, yet Larsson writes him in such a way that you can’t help but be enamoured with the man.

Larsson uses the same ability to make Lisbeth Salander (the title character) the most enthralling heroine for a long time to come. Almost immediately upon her introduction, you know that she is not your friend. She is not someone most people can relate to in the slightest, nor someone you would ever want to be. All the usual avenues to making a character stick in a reader’s mind are closed. I could say that her appeal lies in the reader’s hearing more of  her thoughts, knowing more about her dark and horrendous reality than any of the other characters, but that’s only a part of it. Maybe this just means that I haven’t read enough, but I don’t remember the last time I came across a female character as incredibly strong and complicated as this skinny twenty-four-year-old who looks fourteen and acts completely insane. She antagonizes anything and anyone she comes across to some degree, which has earned her a formidable criminal record and a psychiatric evaluation totally at odds with what she really is. But she is so ridiculously skilled and possesses so many talents without thinking twice about them that I can’t bring myself to say a word against her. That’s the special thing about Salander. As a reader, you’re not forced into liking her out of pity and respect for the fact that she’s still alive and taking care of herself in spite of all she’s been through. There is not a single scrap of victim mentality in her. Instead, she not only steamrollers everything in her path to survive, but continues being many times more brilliant than anyone around her with very few people (other than Blomkvist, eventually) ever realizing it.

That’s the other unique thing about Salander. Usually when characters have even one of the rare talents she does, it’s a package deal with a bloated sense of entitlement and self-importance. Salander’s secretive about hers, even embarrassed when Blomkvist finds out about one of them (a photographic memory). That’s not to say she doesn’t use them in questionable ways, though – at the end of the book, her excellence as a hacker allows her to steal millions from a fraudulent financier (Hans-Erik Wennerstrom, Mikael’s mortal enemy and the reason for his imprisonment) as she exposes him and indirectly brings about his death.

The book is fraught with such contradictions and dilemmas. I’ve barely skimmed the surface and haven’t even touched on the main plot, primarily because I don’t want to ruin the whole book and also because writing everything I have to say about this masterpiece would probably take me, like, a week.  The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo deals with misogyny, religion, journalistic ethics, the evils of bureaucracy, open and gay/lesbian relationships, and many other themes in an admirably un-preachy way, while offering a thoroughly engrossing murder mystery to boot. This is probably one of many posts I will write about the trilogy. I would not recommend anyone under seventeen to read it, just because it will probably give you nightmares and I don’t even think you’d enjoy it, but if you’re a true-blue adult, here’s some summer reading for you. Go buy the book, rent it, check it out from your local library, whatever (and no, watching one or both of the movies is not the same thing) and then come talk to me. I’d love to discuss it with someone who’s read it.