Monday, 25 May 2009

Stieg Larsson: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2005)

Translated: Reg Ketland (2008)
Edition: MacLehose Press, 2008

The central character of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Mikael Blomkvist, is an investigative financial journalist who publishes a well-regarded magazine, Millennium. After its latest exposé of a corrupt businessman, he is sued for libel, and, abandoned by his sources, loses, leaving his career and reputation in ruins. But then he is offered a job by another well-known Swedish businessman, to spend a year writing a history of his family and their firm while really working on the mystery which has obsessed Henrik Vanger for forty years. In 1966, Vanger's great niece went missing, and he has mysteriously received a flower each anniversary of the disappearance.

Almost as important is the character who provides the title of the novel. Lisbeth Salander is in her twenties, but not permitted a full adult life by the Swedish state after her refusal to interact with the world around her as a child led to her institutionalisation as mentally deficient. Yet give her a problem which interests her, and she works obsessively on it, which combines with a photographic memory to make her a great investigator.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a gripping novel of investigation into the pastt of a fascinating but awful family, most of whom are nasty pieces of work, many of whom hate most of the others, who were heavily involved with Sweden's Nazi party, which includes drunks and hermits as well as obsessives. But it is actually the characters of Blomkvist and Salander which are the focus of the novel, and their strengths and shortcomings give a depth to it beyond that of most thrillers. It is also quite academic, as the action is mostly in the discoveries made about the past, but that doesn't stop the story being exciting. The background of the author as a financial investigative journalist similar to that of Blomkvist is clear not just from the verisimilitude of the setting, but from the style of writing, even in translation.

A few years ago, there was a short space of time during which I read several great fantasy novels. This year, it seems to be the same with literary thrillers translated from Swedish. But this novel, and its successors in the Millennium trilogy, have made it to English a great deal quicker than The Gentlemen. Cynically, this seems to me to be at least partly because the story of their production - delivered to a publisher by a respected financial journalist who died before publication - gives an added marketing hook to the novels.

This is an excellent translation of an excellent novel, and I look forward to reading the remainder of the Millennium trilogy. My rating - 9/10.


Anonymous said...

Another cynical view might simply be that Henning Mankell, Jo Nesbo, Arnaldur Indridasson, Hakan Nesser etc etc have created a very fertile market for the "Scanditective" genre... Probably not hindered either by the recent English Wallander adaptation.

Kay Rivera said...

Hi! I've long enjoyed your reviews on Geocities but only recently found my way here. Since I've found your reviews very instructive, I was wondering if you had transferred all your reviews to this blog, or whether they simply stayed in the Geocities website. I ask because of the news that Geocities will be closing soon. :)

Simon McLeish said...

I'm actually working on moving them to another site, a WIKI. It's not ready yet, but I should be able to put up an announcement fairly soon when there's a bit more content transferred.