Stieg Larsson (2010) The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, translated from the Swedish by Reg Keeland

When Mikael Blomkvist is holed up in cottage in the Vanger estate and can’t think he reads detective novels. I do that too. Hence The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (and the first 100 pages of The Girl Who Kicks the Hornets’ Nest). Blomkvist namechecks Val McDermid The Mermaids Singing and some other—to me—obscure Scandinavian detective novels. In short, Blomkvist was behaving like a real person. He was behaving like me, which might have been you. But who would play you in the film? The answer is Daniel Craig plays Blomkvist. (Roona Mara plays Lisbeth Salander) Larsson/Blomkvist was everyman with a mission, or two missions, or perhaps three books full of Millennium and another three, literally, ghost written.

The trial was already over, everything that could be said had been said, but he never doubted that he would lose. The written verdict was handed down at 10.00 on Friday morning, and all that remained was a summing-up from the reporters waiting on the corridor outside the district court.

Blomkvist had been found guilty, fined and he’s going to jail for three months. But he’s more worried about the Millennium magazine he’s set up to investigate corruption and big finance, which is often the same thing. He’s been accused of libel and defamation of the reputation of financier Hans Erik Wennerstrom. That’s a bit like defaming Sir Philip Nigel Ross Green special adviser to Prime Minister David Cameron. And conservatives really would be so outraged with the Swedish model of prison time. Blomkvist thought of it as therapeutic. Our Tory friends, of course, think that the hanging of a boy of thirteen-year-old for stealing a spoon in 1788 was too lenient, because he hadn’t been flogged properly first.

Stieg Larsson has a didactic element to his writing, which if often glossed over by his page-turning prose. Current concerns in the disunited United Kingdom that children are facing Christmas cooped up with their abusers, with the NSPCC charity receiving more than 31 000 calls since April, are matched by the author’s themes of incest and sexual abuse and eugenics of the Nazi variety in The Vanger Family. They are portrayed as old money, industrialists that made things and didn’t mind destroying people in the process. But not all of them. Christopher Plummer plays the eighty-two-year-old patriarch Henrik Vanger in the film of the same name, he’s that nice kind of Teutonic fellow that worries about worker redundancies. And for the last 40 years he’s been receiving a framed and pressed flower, with a note to mark the disappearance of his niece Harriet. He believes someone is his family has murdered her. All police leads have ended in failure. He hires Blomkvist, ostensibly to write a family history, to look for new leads of what happened on the day of her disappearance. But he doesn’t hold out much hope.

Blomkvist says because it’s an island, it’s a bit like an Agatha Christie closed-room whodunnit in the Vanger family, but then discounts the idea. But that’s exactly what this long-winding book is.  

Larsson makes misogynistic abuse plain. Part 1, for example, tells the reader, 18% of the women in Sweden have at one time been threatened by a man. Part 2, 46% of the women in Sweden have been subjected to violence by a man. Part 3, 13% of the women in Sweden have been subjected to aggravated sexual assault outside a sexual relationship. 92% of Women in Sweden who have been subjected to sexual assault have not reported the most recent violent incident to the police. Here in Britain the Independent Monitor for the Press, Femicide Census, reported that a woman is currently being killed by a man every three days. Larsson, before his death, was outing not just a Scandinavian, but a British and, arguably, universal pattern.

Larsson’s revenge was the creation of the iconic Lisbeth Salander. While journalist Blomkvist experiences middle-class angst of where his next story will be coming from, Salander is the outsider’s outsider. She’s four-foot-eleven, twenty four, but looks like a beautiful fifteen-year-old waif and every minute is a battle for survival. Her battle with a bureaucracy designed to help her is of the deadly variety. Her social worker a sadistic predator that orally and anally rapes her. Larsson flips to his point of view as he muses that she’s better than a prostitute because he pays for her services with her own—state-funded—money.

Salander will get her revenge—she always does. She’s a hi-tech hacker, the best in Sweden, and she has a photographic memory. Blomkvist muses that she suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, but they become lovers as they unravel the mystery of what happened to Harriet Vanger and other mutilated and abused women. Salander is the equaliser that’s not going to let powerful men get away with it.

Salander, ironically, becomes part of capitalist branding like our aging James Bond. She becomes not a character, but a sexy Japanese Anamie figure that can be deployed in a number of situations and she’ll come out top girl.

In The Girl Who Kicks the Hornets’ Nest, for example, she’s been shot in the head by her father and buried in a shallow grave by her half-brother who is built like ‘a brick shithouse’. Because of a genetic condition, her half-brother feels no pain. He’s superhuman and a psychopathic murderer. He disarms two armed cops, kills one of them and steals their car, yet she takes him down. She has internal injuries to her leg and…well, you get the drift. Bad thing happen. Bad things happen to her. But it makes her stronger. More of a brand name. Watch the movie, save yourself time.     

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