Book Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
by Steig Larsson
Vintage Books 2005
I have been hearing the hoopla about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for a while now; it recently was made into a movie and so I thought I would try to find out a little about it. I learned that the author, Steig Larsson, was a leading expert on right-wing white extremist and Nazi organizations, and so I thought it would be interesting to see how much of his "expertise" spilled over into this "thriller." Larsson died in 2004 but not before completing a trilogy of which The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the first book.
The story starts off with the character Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist who was convicted of libel after he wrote a story accusing a wealthy Swedish finance capitalist of corruption. Within the story one character is explaining the role of a certain investment group to Blomkvist called AIA which, after the Berlin Wall came down, was active in European capitalism and the character says: "Believe me, it was a capitalist's wet dream. Russia and Eastern Europe may be the world's biggest untapped markets after China. Industry had no problem joining hands with the government especially when the companies were required to put up only a token investment."(p26)
Nations that were formerly socialist switched back to a profit-based system and opened up their markets to foreign investment. In the later stages of imperialism, where markets are saturated and there is too much capital to move around, this is in fact a "capitalist's wet dream" and corporate power often merges with the state in a carpool lane down the road of exploitation. This wet dream is one the author seems to understand quite clearly.
The other main character in the book is a bisexual women named Lisbeth Salander who is a 20-something white punk rock type who is a hacker and gifted investigator.
Blomkvist is hired by one of the heads of a Swedish wealthy industrialist family, Vanger, who wants to know who murdered his niece, Harriet, who disappeared decades before. The catch is Blomkvist must live one year on the island from which Harriet disappeared and investigate. In return Blomkvist would not only receive millions of dollars for attempting to solve this mystery but the industrialist would also give Blomkvist information on the finance capitalist which had Blomkvist convicted of libel, thus getting his personal revenge and having the biggest story of the year.
Blomkvist soon learns Vanger's brothers were both active in Swedish politics, one being a Swedish Nazi Party member and the other being a nationalist party member, while Vanger claims to have "no interest in politics." Vanger went on to study economics ironically.
Sprinkled throughout the book is the underlying subjectivism I was looking for in Larsson's writing, any "expert in Nazi extremist" groups would be expected to expose h ideas in a novel one way or another and Larsson does not leave us hanging.
He describes an angry email that Blomkvist received, stating: "I hope you suck cock in the slammer you fucking commie pig" (p190) and which Blomkvist saves in the "intelligent criticism" folder. A character named Lobach is described in Nazi Germany: "And Lobach knew how to land a contract, he was entertaining and good natured. The perfect Nazi." (p197) It is obvious where the author's line lies, for an "expert" on Nazism to describe a Nazi character as good natured in this book attempts to repackage these fascist scumbags as palatable to the reader, it's classic propaganda in the form of a novel.
At one point the young punk rock woman is raped and forced to perform oral sex on her "guardian" who is court appointed to handle her finances. This trustee named Bjurman who rapes her is described as a member of Greenpeace, Amnesty International, and an advocate for political prisoners in the Third World. It's interesting that throughout the book those who advocated progressive social causes are rapists and villains while Nazi's are described as "entertaining and good natured." It was this interweaving of the author's line within a novel in classic propaganda spirit which I knew I would encounter in this book.
The main character Blomkvist serving two months in jail for the libel case but does not describe prison conditions nor relations in prison. His stint in prison was reduced to two pages and was described as mostly playing poker and lifting weights.
[spoiler alert] It turns out that the brother of the old man who initiated this investigation in the first place is a serial killer who has been killing wimmin for decades. And his father was a serial killer before him and taught him how to kill and dispose of bodies. Blomkvist discovers this and confronts the culprit, Martin, who places Blomkvist in a torture chamber in his basement. This reminded me of a Security Housing Unit cell: it had no window, it was cold and spartan and made of stone. It is Salander, The girl with the Dragon Tattoo, who saves Blomkvist from certain death in the torture chamber.
The book is drenched in sexual perversion with a womyn being brutally raped and sodomized by a man, a man brutally raped and sodomized by a womyn, a father raping his son and daughter, and this same father forcing his son to rape his sister. Such a book is common in capitalist society where everyone is sexualized and the consumer culture is fueled by porn and capitalist immorality.
In the end Blomkvist and Salander expose a finance capitalist who had his hand in everything from fraudulent loans to child porn. This billionaire, after being exposed, fled Sweden and was tracked down and murdered in Spain. After this story broke Blomkvist regained his journalist career. And to wrap things up nicely with a fictional bow, the old man Vanger found his niece Harriet living in Australia after running away decades before, fleeing rape.