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The Moralist

set her sights on the best available alternative: the new Apple PowerBook G4/1.0 GHz in an aluminium case with a PowerPC 7451 processor with an AltiVec Velocity Engine, 960 MB Ram and a 60 GB hard drive. It had BlueTooth and built-in CD and DVD burners.

One is reminded of the frequently cited technical specs of guns in Mailer’s Why Are We in Vietnam? The computer is Salander’s weapon. Unlike firearms, however, this is a weapon every ordinary reader handles every day:

Best of all, it had the first 17-inch screen in the laptop world with NVIDIA graphics and a resolution of 1440 x 900 pixels, which shook the PC advocates and outranked everything else on the market.

It is through the computer screen that the free individual can hack into the evil world of the great corporation with its corrupt practices and pedophile porn rings and begin the duty or the fantasy of striking back. Not quite Alice in Through the Looking-Glass but not unrelated; when Salander goes online she is transformed, omnipotent.

Many novels have captured the global imagination by presenting modern man as in thrall to a vast international conspiracy; one thinks of Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum or Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. The hidden organization that conditions and controls us is the antithesis of individualism and its natural enemy, an evil extension of the potentially perilous family that wields such power over us from birth, or the traditional marriage that restricts our sexual encounters, or the incompetent if not nakedly evil state that tangles us in a web of bureaucracy and is always complicit with organized crime. From all these things, Salander shows us how to be free, with inspired use of our laptops.

It is the ingenuousness and sincerity of Larsson’s engagement with good and evil that give the trilogy its power to attract so many millions of people. There really is no suspicion in these books that his heroes’ obsessions might be morbid. Certainly the reader will not be invited to question his or her enjoyment in seeing sexual humiliation inflicted on evil rapists. That pleasure will not be spoiled. It’s not surprising, reading biographical notes, that as an adolescent Larsson witnessed a gang rape and despised himself for failing to intervene, or that in his twenties he spent time in Eritrea training guerrillas—women guerrillas, of course—and then much of his mature life investigating and denouncing neo-Nazis.

Indeed he was so active in these matters that he felt it wise not to make his address public, or even his relationship with Eva Gabrielsson, his partner of thirty years. The two didn’t marry, she has explained in an interview, because under Swedish law marriage would have required publication of their address. Nor did they have children. As a result, when Larsson died of a heart attack at fifty in 2004, shortly before the first part of the trilogy was published and without having made a will, his estate passed to his father and brother, to whom he was not particularly close, leaving Gabrielsson with none of the vast income that was about to accrue. A man with a better eye for plot, one feels, would not have allowed such a loose end to threaten his achievement; unless these are precisely the pitfalls of remaining a free individual outside any confining social system.

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