I just finished reading Steig Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy. Spoiler alert.
The character of Lisbeth Salander is really stuck in my head: the weird, under-developed girl with the dragon tattoo won me over. She is an unconventional heroine: with her photographic memory, sexual fetish and preferences, her introvert nature, her eccentric morality. In the end of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Lisbeth comes across a huge stash of cash which she steals from Hans-Erik Wennerstrom and subsequently invests. Also, Lisbeth is the one responsible for the phone call that leads to the corrupt businessman’s death, as she is for the death of her half-brother Ronald Niedermann in the climax of the trilogy. Lisbeth has very little faith in the authorities; a result of what she had to face in her childhood. She would not have trusted justice in the hands of the policeman and lawyers because as a twelve year old, her problems ( Jonasson, the doctor who treats her bullet wounds in The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest claims she could have been diagnosed with something as simple as autism) were blown out of proportion in order to lock her up in a psychiatry ward just so her father Zalachenko’s tracks can be covered.
Two of the most significance subjects at the heart of these novels are: the revelation of Swedish Secret Police and the secrets and conspiracies the adopt to protect the state’s dirty secrets and sexual abuse of women (the Swedish title of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was Men Who Hate Women).
The girl with the Dragon Tattoo was centred around the disappearance of a girl, Harriet Vanger. Her beloved uncle believed her murdered but Blomkvist and Salander manage to dig up into her past and discover that she spent her childhood being raped over and over by her own father and brother until she ran away and started a new life. Later Blomkvist discovers a secret torture cellar in Martin’s basement; a soundproof room where he keeps his women victims, torturing and enjoying them slowly over a long period of time before disposing them off. Martin’s secret was that he never lifted women who could be traced back to their homes or lead to any kind of media speculation. Martin brags about the way he treated those women; he claims that he derives great pleasure in making them beg him for their life and then the final moment of realization when they discover that he is not going to spare them thrills him.
Another strong aspect of the sexual scenario comes in the form of Lisbeth’s life. Lisbeth spent her childhood watching her Soviet spy father Zalachenko torture and abuse her mother while she and her twin sister would watch and listen in from the next room, Lisbeth’s hatred for her father grew into a fiery fire and she was violent in her approach towards bringing him to justice. When she threw acid on his face (the excerpt is briefly remembered in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo but the details are revealed in the subsequent two books), Sapo was forced to cover Zalachenko’s tracks (for Zalachenko was not supposed to exist; he was Sweden’s best-kept secret) by getting Salander locked up in a psychiatrist ward. For this, they forge false reports which claim that Salander was mentally incompetent. After Dr Peter Teleborian assists the writing of this false report, he has her locked up in a room with sensory deprivation. In Teleborian’s character, Larsson reveals a paedophile (the series deals with such a huge bunch of fetish-driven people). Later when Salander is put under the charge of Bjurman, she finds that he wants sexual favours from her. He wants to keep her in control but Lisbeth is shown to be a step ahead of him because she tapes her own rape and tattoos ‘I am a sadistic pig and a rapist’ over him.
Lisbeth’s story also becomes more intriguing with the discovery that she is bisexual and spends time with her occasional lover from Hong Kong; Miriam Wu. Lisbeth is also in love with Blomkvist but Blomkvist sleeps with a lot of women and also has a long-standing relationship with his Millenium co-owner Erika Berger.
An important element in Harriet’s story is the shadow of Nazism over the Vanger family. Richard, Harriet’s grandfather and a Nazi, starts a chain of abuse in his line of the family, which is what ultimately makes Martin what he is shown to have become. Blomkvist points out that Martin became what he did because of what his childhood did to him. Lisbeth’s angle can be understood later, after we know her story. She cannot sympathize with the path Martin chose from early on in his childhood because she too grew up in an environment of domestic violence and yet she kept her head above water.
Sapo’s contribution to the plot starts developing in the second half of The Girl Who Played with Fire; after Lisbeth discovers the 1991 report about herself. Zalachenko’s tracks have been covered rather carefully by the Section within Sapo. Read also: New documents point to innocence of convicted Swedish “spy” and Sapo behind Julian Assange’s rape charges?
Lisbeth’s fascination with mathematics and Fermat’s theorem is a part of The Girl Who Played with Fire but it is something she dismisses as lost interest in The Girl Who Stirred the Hornet’s Nest. her prodigious mathematical skills are dislayed in the second book but after her bullet hole, Jonasson reveals that her mathematical abilities may be affected as a result.
Stieg Larsson’s stories were interesting because of their feminist angle, the way he treated the question of sexual abuse and sexual discrimination in the workplace (Berger’s harassment in her new SMP office), the question of secrecy and the compromises Lisbeth is forcefully made to undergo.