As of June 2011, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo had sold over 15 million copies worldwide. This is impressive for three reasons:
1. The novel was originally published in Swedish
2. It is the author’s first novel
3. It was published posthumously.
One could also add to that list the fact that it’s not particularly well written, but I think that would be harsh as it’s not clear whether the language might be down to the translation more than the original writing.
Although the writing isn’t brilliant, the plot is fast paced and the characters are original. The two main characters, journalist Mikael Blomkvist and computer hacker Lisbeth Salander, are thrust together to work on a case that the police force put to rest decades ago: the disappearance of Harriet Vanger, granddaughter of aging industry tycoon Henrik Vanger. At the same time, Blomkvist is coping with the aftermath of a court case in which he was found guilty of libel, whilst Salander, who is a ward of the court following an implied difficult childhood, is plotting revenge on her abusive guardian.
This is the second time I’ve read the book and I’d forgotten the extent of the violence that it contains. The Swedish title is Men Who Hate Women, and it has been said that the author Stieg Larsson was inspired to write it partly as a way of dealing with an incident in his childhood, when he witnessed a sexual assault but failed to do anything about it (I can’t remember where I read that so can’t give a source but I’m sure it’s true). The sexual violence women are subjected to within the novel is described in some detail, and some could find it quite upsetting.
The plot takes some time to get going, and there are long passages about Swedish legal procedures and the intricacies of government-led economic initiatives that, honestly, could have been left out and the book would have felt more enjoyable. But once things get moving, it does start to feel ‘unputdownable’. Despite a few unlikely developments, on the whole the plot is convincing. The main characters are well rounded, believable and…not likeable exactly, but you feel invested in their journey and you do want to know what happens to them. Some of the secondary characters I found to be caricatures, and if you’re one of the 15 million people who’ve read this, please tell me that you also found Erika Berger to be completely unrealistic and horribly irritating!
I’d recommend this if you enjoy thrillers and crime fiction, although be prepared for a lot more philosophising than your average detective novel. I’d especially say that you might like this if you’re an Agatha Christie fan, as the detective work is all done using “the little grey cells,” as Poirot would say. If you’re more into literary fiction, then try this as a lighthearted change from your norm and you might be pleasantly surprised.