Now as an avid reader I seem to have developed a certain habit when it comes to films. The more people bug me to watch a film based on a novel the less likely I am to watch that film but instead file it away in my mental ‘books to read’ cabinet, many of these books unfortunately are yet to be read. This is the case with Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins and of course, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. So whilst friends around me were arguing whether the Swedish or American films were better my knowledge of the Millennium trilogy remained minimal for the want of experiencing it’s greatness from a page rather than a screen. That is until I came across the book in a charity shop a few weeks ago, then I finally got to meet Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander.
It’s moments like this that justify my habit which annoys my friends and family so, because Dragon Tattoo thrives on mystery, excels at keeping you in the dark, and therefore having no knowledge of the story made the experience of reading it extremely satisfying. For those unaware, Dragon Tattoo follows a financial journalist activist named Mikael Blomkvist who specialises in exposing the criminal activity of wealthy businessmen. After a damming court case loss Blomkvist is invited to the remote town of Hedestead where he is asked to investigate the 36 year old disappearance of a girl named Harriet Vagner. What follows is a dark twisted tale of the Vagner family history and how it relates to Harriet’s disappearance.
The plot actually moves along pretty slowly for the first half of the book with the mystery being presented very much as unsolvable. This works in the novel’s favour however as it gives the book time to introduce you to the large cast of unusual characters in Hedestead and ultimately pays off later in the book as the puzzle pieces begin slotting into place. Much of this first half follows the character of Lisbeth Salander who is as unusual as she is strangely loveable. Larsson exposes real issues in Swedish law which allows personal freedom and dignity to be seized from people like Lisbeth who has been deemed socially incompetent by the courts due to her odd behaviour. The book often goes into dark territory such as sadism and rape to point where you want to put the book down with disgust, but all this just makes the world and the struggle the characters face that much more real.
Above all else Dragon Tattoo does a wonderful job of making its characters seem very real, every member of the Vagner family has a fleshed out backstory which affects their motives and behaviour. Larsson spares no expense in completely immersing the reader into the Vagner family history which is so riddled with mystery and intruige that it rivals the main mystery itself in terms of reader interest.
Simply put, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo represents the modern novel at its very best. It is dark, clever and gripping, with a fleshed out cast of fascinating characters and a slowly building mystery that resolves itself with a bang. I can’t wait to see what books 2 and 3 have in store.