Thanks to the slew of Swedish and Hollywood movies, everyone knows that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
is a story of a kickass hacker Lisbeth Salander who has the eponymous tattoo and a knack for solving decades-old murders.
Well, not exactly. Lisbeth is awesome and badass, no doubt there, but this book is so much more than just her story, and focusing solely on that undermines the message Stieg Larsson was sending.
The original Swedish title is Men Who Hate Women
and it is precisely what the story is about. (*)
* I am pretty sure it received its Book Witness Protection Program name change treatment to avoid being seen as "that feminist crap" in the English-speaking society. Where "feminist" sadly may still be viewed as an insult.
Apparently a teenage Larsson witnessed and failed to stop rape of a young woman. He was so affected by it that he wrote his magnum opus to make amends for the witnessed atrocity. Thus we have Men Who Hate Women
, which is a short description of the focus of his entire Millenium
series. Larsson speaks up - angrily, loudly, with conviction - on behalf of not just Salander but all women who have been marginalized, dismissed, paternalised, silenced, treated as inferior, treated as property, overlooked, infantilized, sexualized, assaulted, and murdered.
Larsson, like his protagonist Blomkvist, was an investigative journalist who specialized in airing out stuff that many "higher-ups" would want to see left alone. (**)
** To quote Terry Pratchett (all bow to his genius), "It's not worth doing something unless someone, somewhere, would much rather you weren't doing it."
This book is an angry and poignant social commentary on the right-wing extremism, prejudice, Nazi leanings, and of course misogyny that still permeate even the quintessential European paradise country of Sweden. Larsson condemns all this, and in his journalism-like style does not hold back the slightest bit. And it is often an uncomfortable read as we see and recognize all those little societal bits and conventions that make these prejudices and even violence possible.
Larsson may not be the most skillful writer, his prose may suffer from long-windedness and overabundance of details (seriously, at times it reads like a cross between a diary and a shopping catalog), but he has strong opinions on painful subjects and is not afraid to let them be known. He had this attitude both in his journalism and his fiction, and I applaud him for that. 3 stars only because of weak prose, but full marks for content.