Set in Sweden, the first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo introduces a cast of characters including investigative journalist and ultimate bachelor Mikael Blomkvist, genius hacker and antisocial 90 lb Lisbeth Salander, and private security company owner Dragon Armansky. Through a series of events, they team up to solve a near 50 year old crime and sift through an intense family drama that includes more scandal than you would ever think possible.
In the second book, The Girl Who Played with Fire, we learn the backstory of Lisbeth's own family drama that shaped her life and caused her general mistrust of all authority figures. Along the way, Lisbeth is wrongfully (maybe??) accused of 3 high-profile murders and is the center of a nationwide manhunt.
And finally, in the third book, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, Lisbeth's small group of trusted confidantes comes together to expose a huge government cover-up that's lasted 30 years and ruined many lives, including Lisbeth's and her mother's.
The three books all carried a common theme of exposing sexual violence towards women, but more than that, it even felt a bit like feminist literature. It seemed odd at times that it was in fact, written by a man. All the female leads were incredibly strong women - Lisbeth is 4'11", 90 lbs, bisexual, and knows how to box, handle weapons and kick any guy's ass, Erika Berger is the Editor-in-Chief of a major magazine and has an open and sexually creative relationship with her husband, Monica Figuerola is a hardcore policewoman, body builder and remains single and unattached to guys...you get the point.
Each chapter in the first book opened with an alarming statistic like this one: Eighteen percent of the women in Sweden have at one time been threatened by a man. In the third book, each chapter opened with a story tidbit about women in power throughout history, for example: An estimated 600 women served during the American Civil War. They had signed up disguised as men. Hollywood has missed a significant chapter of cultural history here - or is this history ideologically too difficult to deal with? Historians have often struggled to deal with women who do not respect gender distinctions, and nowhere is that distinction more sharply drawn than in the question of armed combat. (Even today, it can cause controversy having a woman on a typical Swedish moose hunt.)
Reading the various statistics and watching the development of these powerful women through all 3 novels almost made me feel bad. It brought me back to my 'French Women in Literature' class during my freshman year of college. I've just never felt "feminist enough" or something. Of course I'm proud to be a woman and I'm incredibly grateful for the women who have come before me and allowed me all the freedoms I enjoy today, but I've never felt like a minority and don't really feel the need to call so much attention to those topics.
But reading these books made me think. Do I play into gender stereotypes and baby myself because I am a girl??
Silly example, but over the past few years, I've been attempting to improve my athleticism. I've never been a couch potato, but now that I'm grown, I don't have three nights a week of dance classes and cheerleading practice and I want to fill the void with skills that are more universal and can be continued all my life, like running. But do I give myself excuses because I'm a petite woman? I've been running on and off for about six years, but I never felt confident or any good until this year when I trained and signed up for my first 5k race. I'm still pretty darn slow and I tell myself it's because I'm tiny...but really, I probably just need a drill sargeant to light a fire under my ass and make me go harder, longer, and without stopping in order for me to really improve.
It's an interesting thing to chew on. I mean, women and men are built differently, but do we play into these differences too much? Women's rights have come a long way, but we definitely still think of certain careers and lifestyle choices as more masculine or feminine. How much of it is necessary and how much is basic prejudice and stereotyping? I feel like this is a debate straight out of a Sociology 101 class, but if we didn't give girls dolls when they were little, would they still ask to play with them?
Ah well, anyways, it's a great set of novels and really pulls you into the drama. The only negatives I'll say about the stories are that they suffer from "Stephen King syndrome" - they're super intense and full of action, but drop-off in the ending (I could've done without the last 1/4 of the first novel). And on a minor note, the Swedish character names can be really difficult to keep track of; they all look the same! I'm excited to see the film adaptations of these books in the next year or two - hopefully they don't disappoint (even though most book translations to movies don't ever live up...).