Let me pick a fairly recent read out of the queue for today’s vacation booklog backlog entry: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the first in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy (which, by the way, is a rotten name for the series). This is a Swedish thriller that is an international bestseller; I read it translated into English by Reg Keeland.
Mikael Blomkvist is a journalist who has just been convicted (yes, criminally; legal systems, they vary) of libel. He needs to disassociate from his magazine, Millennium, for a while, and takes a job purportedly writing a CEO’s memoirs but really investigating the decades-old disapperance of his niece. A private investigator named Lisbeth Salander also becomes involved; their stories proceed in parallel at first (Lisbeth investigated Mikael before the CEO hired him and then became interested in the libel case) and then come together.
I can sort of see why this became a bestseller, though it hardly seems inevitable. There are some clunky bits: it’s written in what I think of as thriller omniscient, where the POV jumps to whatever character would be convenient at the time, and its roots as something written several years before it was published show, because the Palm handheld that Lisbeth uses is I-don’t-even-know how many years away from being top-of-the-line tech. (Larsson wrote three books and handed them all to a publisher shortly before dying; I’m not sure how much time there was for revisions, or if they weren’t supposed to be set in the present anyway. I am told that the three published books do not end on a cliffhanger.) But it has a good central mystery that made me want to find out what happened. Lisbeth is a fascinating character for all that she gives me appeal of the lawless elite twinges (Mikael is less interesting and has a whiff of Mary Sue about him, frankly). And—what particularly interests me—it burns with outrage at sexism and violence against women [*], in a way that makes its handling of such violence (and some of it is quite terrible) urgent and distressing. In, I think, a non-exploitative way, and in a way that shows awareness of the issues that would arise if its women were solely victims.
[*] When the epigraph to Part One is, “Eighteen percent of the women in Sweden have at one time been threatened by a man,” and the others are similar, you can’t say you weren’t warned.
Recommended if you like that kind of thing, in other words.