Posted by: koolwine | October 26, 2010

Sweden: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

A  journalist convicted of libel and a petite cyberpunk unravel a decades-old murder case.

Country Focus: Sweden (Sverige in Swedish)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Stieg Larsson
Translated by Reg Keeland
Originally published
in Sweden as Män Som Hatar Kvinnor by Norstedts, 2005.
My edition: First Vintage Crime/Black Lizard Edition, 2009.
590 pgs.

Acclaim: International Bestseller

To make a long story short: After his fraudulent libel conviction, Mikael Blomkvist is forced to resign as publisher of Millennium magazine.   An aging industrialist, Henrik Vanger, tempts Blomkvist with a chance of exoneration if he agrees to try to solve the forty-year-old murder of Vanger’s niece, Harriet.  Blomkvist agrees, and enlists the help of Lisbeth Salander, an antisocial hacker who has recently gained the upper hand over her abusive new guardian.  Despite their differences, the two form a intense bond.  Together they track down a killer, hatch a plan to save Millennium from bankruptcy, and strike back at the businessman who brought down Blomkvist.

My opinion: I didn’t intend to a) read a book from two Scandinavian countries in a row, and b) read two internationally best-selling crime novels in a row, but after having just seen the movie versions of The Girl with Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire I couldn’t stop myself.  I just had to read the books.

Generally, if I see the movie first, then I like the movie better than the book and vice versa.  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is no exception to this rule, the main reason being Noomi Rapace, who portrays an unforgettably strange, brilliant and ruthlessly moral Lisbeth Salander.  I found Larsson’s Salander to be disappointingly less confident and more emotionally vulnerable than Rapace’s.

It’s the uniqueness of Salander and the complex relationship between her and Blomkvist that make the Millennium trilogy such a publishing phenomenon.  Neither of Dragon Tattoo‘s two plots – one about a serial killer and the other a David and Goliath-like duel between independent press vs. big business – are more than averagely interesting.

The armchair travel experience: The Sweden that Larsson depicts is quite a lot like America, except that it’s not necessary to own a car.  Like us, Swedes struggle with issues like white collar crime, violence against women, hate groups, and censored media.

In my book (or what Sweden means to me and maybe you, too)

The girl with the gravity-defying braids
The first time I saw Pippi Longstocking (reruns of  the 1969 Swedish TV series), I could tell right away that she was out of the ordinary – her long braids jutted out at scientifically impossible right angles from her head.   Intrigued, I read the first couple of Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking books.   I admired Pippi’s physical strength and her confidence (even in the late 1970s there weren’t very many female characters with those qualities), but her parent-less lifestyle and outspokenness shocked me (I was parent-clingy and very shy).

Lindgren sold tens of millions of copies of the 100 books she wrote, so it was only fitting to find out that Stieg Larsson, who was the second best-selling author in the world in 2008, based the character of Lisbeth Salander on Lindgren’s most popular character.  As was reported in the New York Times:

“An old colleague of Mr. Larsson’s has said they once talked about how certain characters from children’s books would manage and behave if they were older. Mr. Larsson especially liked the idea of a grown-up Pippi, a dysfunctional girl, probably with attention deficit disorder, who would have had a hard time finding a place in society but would nonetheless take a firm hand in directing her own destiny.  That musing led to the creation of Lisbeth Salander, the central character in Mr. Larsson’s trilogy.”

Lindgren’s boy detective, Kalle Blomqvist, was Larsson’s inspiration for investigative reporter Mikael Blomkvist, who hates his nickname “Kalle.”  The book explains the origin of the nickname; if you’ve only seen the movie and are unfamiliar with Lindgren’s books, you feel like you’re on the outside of an in-joke – why is this guy so annoyed when people call him “Kalle”?

The chef who sang “Börk! Börk! Börk!”
My first introduction to the Swedish language came from The Muppet Show‘s Swedish Chef, whose speech was 80% unintelligible and 20% English spoken in the silliest of Swedish accents.  To see my blog translated into Swedish Chef-ese, go to The Dialectizer and type in

The gummy candy that doesn’t taste good
When I was a kid, I was a gummy candy connoisseur: Haribo brand gummy bears were the best, and Coca-Cola bottle-shaped and -flavored gummies came in a close second.  In my opinion, the worst the gummy candy industry had to offer was Swedish Fish.  I thought that those red gummy fish tasted bad.  Could be that I just didn’t like their “secret” flavor (suspected to be lingonberry) or maybe I was subconsciously missing the gelatin (absent from the Swedish Fish recipe) that most other gummy candies contain.

The furniture that you put together yourself
My parents bought pretty much all of my bedroom furniture from the Swedish furniture company IKEA, so it’s a brand I’ve been familiar with for a long time.  The name IKEA is an acronym composed of the 17-year-old founder’s initials (Ingvar Kamprad), the name of the farm where he grew up (Elmtaryd), and his hometown (Agunnaryd).

I haven’t been to an IKEA store in over twenty years (there are no IKEAs in Montana), and we don’t own any IKEA furniture, but we have managed to keep the IKEA spirit alive: a lot of our furniture came in flat-pack boxes and had to assembled by us, just as if we had bought it from IKEA.

The man who biked to Mount Everest
My husband stuck this quote about Swedish adventurer Göran Kropp on our fridge, where it stayed for about a year due to popularity:

“You’ll notice I eat a lot of chocolate,” [Kropp] says. “You need a belly to store extra power and energy when you’re out on an expedition.”

He grabs a fistful of midsection. “I see all these rock climbers trying to be as skinny as they can, and I think, if they should ever go to Everest, they will cry.  But with this” —again, the belly— “with this you will not cry.”

In 1996, Kropp rode a bicycle laden with almost 300 pounds worth of supplies from Stockholm to the base of Mount Everest, climbed the world’s tallest mountain without porters, supplemental oxygen, or prefixed ropes and then pedaled the 7,000 miles back home.

Keep Reading!



  1. I came to your blog through Ode. I love your idea of reading books from/about all the countries. I am going to join you on your quest. (I am currently reading “King Arthur and His Knights of the Roundtable” hence the “quest”.) My mom loaned me “The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo” so I am going to start with that. I like your blog entries about the books you have read. Interesting to see your reaction to the books and related thoughts.


    • Questors of world literature. I like it. Glad to have you along.


  2. I finished “Dragon Tattoo”. I liked it, especially for the character development. I like authors that take the time to develop characters so we can gauge their reactions to the plot. Besides the violence against women theme it seemed another important issue was trust between the characters. I wonder if that is an issue in the social fabric of Sweden? Also, I got the impression that most of the characters were emotionally cool and sometimes icily cold. The one scene of relief from that coolness was when Blomkvist went to the small town in search of the photo. There the non-professional class seemed open and trusting and always inviting Blomkvist in for coffee. Did you get a similar impression? I have ordered “What About The What” for my next read on the quest. Have Fun, Rodney


    • My opinion of Dragon Tattoo and its characters is heavily biased by the movie. Neither version is warm and fuzzy, that’s for sure. You made an interesting observation that I didn’t particularly key into; thanks for sharing it. Hope you enjoy What Is the What and let me know what you think.


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