Since the American movie has just come out, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2008) by Stieg Larsson is all over the place. As of now, I have not seen any of the movies and I'm in the middle of reading the final book of the trilogy. I am very curious to see how reading the final installment will color my view of the first two books, as well as the series as a whole. (Because the story is so well-known at this point, I've decided to not worry about spoilers in the paragraphs below.)
Lisbeth Salander is an intelligent, but isolated and socially awkward young woman. Deemed incompetent by the courts, she lives under the direction of a newly appointed guardian. Lisbeth Salander is a master with computers and has a photographic memory. Her skills make her very useful to the private security firm where she works. The other protagonist in the book, Mikael Blomkvist, is a famous journalist who has just been convicted of libel. He is approached by an elderly millionaire to write a biography of his family, and at the same time investigate the disappearance of the gentleman's granddaughter. The elderly millionaire also approaches Salander's employer to get a background check on Blomkvist before he hires him.
Salander becomes aware of Blomkvist when she is assigned to do his background check. Blomkvist becomes aware of Salander when he discovers that she has hacked into his computer. In the end, they team up to try to solve the mysterious disappearance of Harriet Vanger, the gentleman's granddaughter.
In the midst of this main mystery is the mystery of Lisbeth Salander, her life, and her background. Her new guardian is a sadistic asshole who uses his power over her to sexually assault and rape her. Salander is powerless, having already been found incompetent, she knows that no one would take her side over her guardian's. But she gets back at him the only way she knows how in a smart, brave, but very brutal fashion.
I'm not a fan of reading a lot of superfluous violence, and I was a little disappointed in this book. I felt that the only thing that separated it from any other mediocre murder mystery book was the pervasive sexual violence that at times seemed gratuitous. Sure, you can say that the book is about vengeance and powerful women because Lisbeth is able to get back at him. But some movies and books seem to revel in the violence against women as well as the revenge violence, and they just end up glorifying all kinds of violence. I'm not a fan of vengeance. I understand how people who have been hurt might yearn for it, but in the end it doesn't erase the original crime and it doesn't help society. In Lisbeth's case, she didn't have much of a choice, but then there are also all the stories of the women tortured and murdered by the serial killer. Although Lisbeth makes for a very interesting character, there didn't seem to be much to this book besides rape and torture.
One other thing that bothered me about this book was Mikael Blomkvist and all of his casual sex. I am very much "to each their own" when it comes to people's choices on sex, but Blomkvist went running around sleeping with every woman he ran into and there weren't any consequences. I guess the relationship that bothered me the most was between Mikael Blomkvist and Erika Berger. Erika Berger is married and her husband knows of and approves of her affairs with Blomkvist. She just calls her hubby to tell him when she'll be staying with Mikael and everything's just fine. I cannot comprehend it. I would not happily or willingly share my spouse (if I had one). I've only seen this kind of thing happen where one person is desperate not to lose their lover, so they agree to anything to keep them. And it's sad. I don't pretend to know what people are comfortable with when it comes to sex, but that relationship still bothers me when I read about it. And then Blomkvist moves on to a clearly troubled and much younger woman. I know there are some similarities between the author and his main character; I couldn't help but wonder if he was just fulfilling some fantasies by giving himself all of the women in the novel.
Because of all of the above, I was ready to give up the series at this point. When the second novel in the series was the only thing I could find to read on my kindle, I gave it another try. Because the second novel went a little deeper into Lisbeth's character and past, making her more understandable, and because there was a little less sexual assault, I decided I did like the series after all. And now I'm finally reading the third novel in the series.