During a visit to Dubrovnik, Croatia (about which, more later) I have spent most of my spare time lying on a hotel bed absorbed in books two and three of this international sensation, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Of course, the second and third books have different names, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and the Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.
I had been told by people who had read all of these that the second and third books were not as good as the first; but I beg to differ.In fact, I have found that the entire series, read consecutively, is one of the most remarkable books I have ever read (and I recommend anyone who hasn’t read them to do so immediately.)
Stieg Larsson, the author, was a Swedish leftist who had spent his life involved in left-wing causes which earned him the enmity of the European right. Being in Europe, I have come to appreciate how active this right-wing is, how serious are its threats, how people like Larsson have had to watch their step if they do not want to be victims of assassination by these lunatic right-wing groups.
When I read the first book I thought it exciting, and intriguing, because of the improbable girl who lay at the centre of the book, this wafer-thin, tiny girl with the computer brain, the photographic memory, the immense skill as a hacker into other people’s computers, and this unlikely physical brilliance which enabled her to overcome attacks by even the most brutal of male attackers.
I thought her intriguing, but unlikely, a figment of the author’s imagination, of course, but not someone we would ever be likely to meet in real life.
The second and third books fill out this character, provide a different perspective on her, and finally get us all on her side, as her victimhood is established. She has, from the first, been the victim of the State, of men in positions of authority who have taken advantage of her, and, because they wanted to keep secret the identity of her brutal father (a defector from the Soviet Union, later a major criminal in Sweden) a child who was regarded as an inconvenience to be dispatched to whatever holding cell was available. So, as a child, she was strapped down to a table for 380 days out of her two year confinement, declared to be incompetent, declared to be mentally ill, psychotic and violent, and given up as a hopeless case,
Eventually, freed, she showed herself in Book I to have remarkable talents as a researcher, to be a person of high morality, but with certain built-in phobias that prevented her from reacting to any persons of authority.
The third book, by far the best, in my estimation, described a sort of denouement to her life: her father, and his son, a brutal person who does not feel pain immediately, pursue her with the intention of killing her. She gets the better of them temporarily, but then her brother fells her, apparently kills her, buries her, and only gradually, as she begins to breathe again, she digs her way out and resumes her quest in life. Meantime, the journalist who has supported her in the earlier works, but whom she does not want to have anything more to do with, continues his research into the people who have persecuted her throughout her life, and uncovers this secret agency within the secret service.
This is another superb aspect of the book. I spent more than half my life as a working journalist, and I have always been cynical about the position that journalists think they occupy within society. I never felt at ease working for a private company, and I found that the newspapers, most of them at least, were run by incompetents, and were kept afloat simply by the continuing inflow of advertising that scarcely needed any management to keep going.
Claims by journalists to virtues of various kinds I have always discounted and sneered at. But in this book the workings of at least two, and quite a few more actually, honest journalists, not intent only on getting the story, but on getting a story that will clean up the underbelly of Swedish life, these are portrayed in minute detail, and I found the description utterly inspiring and absorbing. I have never struck anything like it in literature (or in life) before, and it has almost caused a revision in my prejudices about journalists. These people protected their sources, as so many journalists do in our society from time to time; but they did it in a context informed by the overall societal effect on what they were doing.
Finally, there is a longish description of a court case in which the girl is accused of many things, and her lawyer lays bare, one strand after another, the lies and prevarications and misjudgments, and incorrect decisions, and brutal misogynism of so many experts, and civil servants: an enthralling scene almost enough to give me faith (for the first time) in the possibility of a justice system).
I urge any of you who have not read these books to undertake them: they are of 800 to 500 pages in length, but are worth every moment you spend on them.