I first heard of this book in conjunction with the release of the movie, but I had no idea what it was, something that did not change for several months, until a colleague from work started telling me about the movie. She actually asked me to read the book. I wanted to anyway and therefore jumped at the chance when someone in my Facebook Reading Group suggested it.
At its deepest level, this supposed murder mystery deals with hatred of women and the victimization thereof. This theme is explored at its deepest level in the supposed murder victim, Harriet Vanger, and one of the people who comes to investigate her death, Lisbeth Salander.
We begin with a mystery: Every year on his birthday, Henrik Vanger has been receiving flowers, all sorts of exotic ones from around the world. This, we come to learn in due course, is something his favorite niece, Harriet, used to give him, up until the time she disappeared.
Henrik, now eigty-two and sure he’s about to die, hires Mikael Blomkvist, a disgraced reporter, to look into the mystery with a fresh pair of eyes. Sure that this is going to be nothing but a dead end, but hoping to use information from Vanger to rebuild his reputation.
Blomkvist gets more than he bargains for.
Within months he comes to learn that one of Sweden’s most prominent families has several large, and controversial, skeletons in their closet: two serial rapists and murderers, incestuous relationships, racism and spousal abuse.
Though Blomkvist works on his own in the beginning, he soon learns that he will not be able to continue and thus enters Lisbeth Salander, superior private eye, but social outcast. Salander keeps to herself and rarely engages in any sort of banter with her employer, or anyone else. It is due to this that we get but the merest glimpse into Salander’s life. She has been assaulted on more than one occasion in her life, and has no use for the police. She handles things on her own, we come to learn. She also shuts out everyone.
It is not until the end of the book that we learn Harriet is alive and well. She was subjected to the rape and abuse of her father and brother, and eventually killed her father because of it. When she thought she was finally free of her brother he appears suddenly. She confides in another family member who helps her to escape. She goes into hiding under her cousin’s name and eventually gets married, movies to Australia and builds a life and a family there. With the death of her brother, she finally is reunited with her family and takes over the reigns of the Vanger corporation.
We see abuse from several sides in this story: Salander and Harriet are two of the most prominent, but Cecilia, a cousin of Harriet’s also escaped an abusive husband. It is interesting how the three women handle it. One the one hand we have Harriet, who got as far away as possible and seemed truly happy. Cecilia, though estranged from her husband, was still married and therefore could not live a full and complete life. We see some of her sadness in her relationship with Blomkvist. And then we have Lisbeth, the consummate loner.
In the end of the story, Harriet, the only one to fully escape the abuse she was subjected to, is the only one who seems to lead a fulfilled life. Lisbeth says she is happy, but in the end we see that she is not because she does fall in love with Blomkvist, even though he can’t give her what she wants.
Here is yet another book I wish I wrote, but it does inspire me to write more about Brian and Mia!