tell all of your friends what you’ve seen

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo: Amazing. Gobsmacking. Addictive. One hell of a novel.

Many novels begin with some epigram, used to illuminate or foreshadow, before the opening chapter. Stieg Larsson’s posthumous debut novel begins with the following:

Eighteen percent of the women in Sweden have at one time been threatened by a man.

No follow-up, no context and no prescription to cure it. Larsson’s not proposing a way to treat this endemic culture of violence and abuse. He’s just telling us about the setting and what we should expect from it.

Our tour guide through this cesspool is the titular Lisbeth Salander, a borderline Asperger’s who dropped out of high school and works as a researcher for a security consultant. She responds to affection with blank stares or active distrust. But behind her unblinking facade is a rigid code of self-written ethics and a penchant for vigilante justice. And it doesn’t hurt matters that she is (by the admission of other characters) Sweden’s best hacker. She is Larsson’s champion: a woman who appears to be the typical victim-in-waiting, but is actually a Fury made flesh.

To the story itself: we first meet Mikael Blomquist, an attractive, stubborn and fiery financial reporter, as he’s walking out of a Stockholm courthouse where he’s just been convicted for libel. His reputation in tatters and the magazine he publishes on the brink of bankruptcy, he still has the presence of mind to hesitate when offered an unusual job. But the job, offered by retired industrialist Henrik Vanger, captivates him: find out who murdered Vanger’s grand-niece, Harriet, thirty-six years ago. Before too long, circumstances drag Blomquist’s path across Salander’s, and the two of them soon team up to bring a dormant murderer to justice.

I haven’t found a novel this compulsively readable in months. I went out of my way to find excuses to read it. Smart, passionate, clear and engaging. Recommended without qualification.

A TV miniseries based on the novel was recently released in Sweden, and the film rights have supposedly been optioned in America. Maybe I’ve been watching too much Community lately, but I can picture Alison Brie (Pete Campbell’s wife Trudy on Mad Men) as Lisbeth Salander very easily. She can pull off that unblinking repression very well. I’d post a photo of her, but they’re all too glamorous: picture her in punk hair and nose ring.

Update: I found a picture of Alison where she isn’t smiling. Still a little too glam, but you get the idea.

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