I just got finished reading Stieg Larsson’s crime detective fiction novels – The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. In fact, I stayed up all night reading the third novel in the series. It’s not that they are compelling literary fiction, necessarily, so much as they are good solid crime detective mystery novels – one of my favorite genres both in written form, on TV, and in the movies.
These books were published posthumously as Larsson died of a heart attack at age 50 in 2004. Since his death, his family (his father and brother) has been involved in a legal battle with his long time companion over inheritance rights.
Larsson was a political activist, photographer, and journalist by background and wrote these novels in his spare time as a way to unwind. It was only shortly before his death that he started pursuing publication of them. Since then, his novels were the #2 bestselling books in 2008 and the first to sell over 1 million ebooks.
Larsson was influenced by American and British crime detective novelists as well as by his life experiences. Larsson’s primary character, Lisbeth Salander, was named after the girl who he witnessed being gang raped when he was 15 years old. Apparently, he was at least partly motivated by guilt over not doing more to help protect the girl. Larsson spent his life fighting for the rights of the abused and under served in society and hated violence, particularly abuse against women.
The original European movies of the trilogy were released in 2009; however, a Hollywood version is now being filmed for release in December 2011. The male lead will be played by Daniel Craig, and the female lead will be played by Rooney Mara.
Larsson was Swedish and his books were translated into English. Reading them, I felt that some of the attitudes with regard to sexual relationships must be driven by Swedish culture so it is probably important to keep an open mind with regard to that as opposed to the Puritanical sexual mores that influence most American readers.
I was also fascinated by the culture of food that was presented. Larsson goes into great detail with regard to the characters drinking coffee (which they do constantly), buying and preparing specific food items from the grocery, and even going to eat at fast food places like McDonald’s. They just seemed to provide insight into the everyday activities of a typical Swedish person which I found fascinating.
And, of course, the story was compelling. The lead character, Lisbeth Salander, was victimized starting from a very early age – abused, raped, institutionalized, marginalized, and very nearly killed on several occasions. The novels are graphic and violent and many people may feel that they border on being gratuitous. However, I believe that they provide us with a lesson that once again the weak and powerless often suffer needlessly at the hands of the powerful. It is only when someone steps up that a difference can be made in the lives of those who cannot or who are prevented from helping themselves. This is not just fiction, it is reality.
My sister and brother-in-law have seen the European movies based on these books. The primary rape scene follows the book very closely. I would probably not be able to watch it. I have never been able to watch scenes of violence against women and children. I can read about them, but I have trouble watching them.
I recommend that you read these books if you like crime detective fiction, but the themes of violence and abuse are graphic. And if you think that what you are reading are gross exaggerations of reality, then I also recommend that you read David Pelzer’s autobiographical books (A Child Called It, The Lost Boy, and A Man Named Dave) for a glimpse at the horror of actual childhood abuse and the tragedy of agencies that fail to protect. You may be surprised to read how closely reality can parallel fiction.