The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The problem with discussing bestsellers is that pretty much everyone has read them by now. I think I may be the last person in the book blogging world to read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, so I won’t belabor the point much: it was a solid, entertaining read. I read it very quickly, in just a couple of days, and I look forward to reading the next book in the series, The Girl Who Played with Fire, probably sometime in…oh, I don’t know–2014. I have a lot of books to read. If you like mysteries, then definitely pick this up, but I think I should warn you about one thing…read on.

I won’t bother with a plot synopsis, so no worries about me giving anything away in terms of who-done-it if you haven’t read this, but I do want to talk about a particular aspect of the book: violence against women. This was something I had been warned about ahead of time by another blogger (and I honestly cannot remember who it was–sorry, fellow blogger!) who mentioned this in her review. I had intended to read it on my own, but it was also our book club selection for the month of May. I think it will be interesting to see if the woman so offended by Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now will also find this book offensive in any way. There are some rather graphic, disturbing scenes in the book that involve sexual violence committed against one of the main characters, Lisbeth Salander (said “girl” in the title) and violence she commits then, in turn, against her aggressor (and I admit, I actually yelled “DO IT!” when Salander was getting her revenge). Part of the investigation in the book also involves a series of serial crimes against women, which are described in all their gory detail.

Now, I didn’t find any of the violence in the story to be particularly gratuitous, and for certain the crimes under investigation, surrounding the disappearance of a young girl, are nothing worse than one might see on the evening news. Such is the sad state of affairs for women in this world, so the late Mr. Larsson seems to be saying. One of my book club members who as of the last meeting had already read the book said, “There isn’t much to discuss about it, really. Maybe family secrets.” Having read the book now, I am a bit surprised by this comment. It makes me wonder: are we so inured to this type of violence that it no longer even registers as a topic of conversation? Or is it just such a  conventional topic in a book of this type (mystery, suspense) that it ceases to shock us?

I could go on about this, but I won’t. Suffice it to say, it always surprises me when violent sexual content fails to provoke comment, but plain old sex just freaks people out. The woman in my book club who hated Rosoff’s book objected fiercely to a young girl who falls into a relationship with her first cousin. While I’m not saying it isn’t taboo, it’s also not exactly way out of the mainstream either. Why else was the royal family so full of hemophiliacs, after all? Another woman in my book club thinks that the movie Shakespeare in Love is pornographic because of the sex scenes. Yes, that movie for which Gwyneth Paltrow won the Academy Award for Best Actress (and Cate Blanchett didn’t win for Elizabeth, but that’s a discussion for another time). I wonder what she’ll have to say about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Stay tuned.

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8 comments

  1. I actually was one of those people who felt this book had a gratuitous amount of violence. I felt like Larsson could have easily removed much of the details he included, without it negatively affecting the book. Then again, I didn’t think the mystery (or its resolution) was all that compelling, so for me I felt like Larsson was just throwing whatever “controversial” material he could at his readers in order to make them feel emotionally invested in the book. I do think, however, that it will be interesting to see how the rest of your book club reacts!

  2. I’m afraid that you may be right. I am become to accustomed to this sort of violence and it doesn’t really shock me any more. I would love to know what your book group thinks of this book, as like Steph I wasn’t that impressed by this book.

  3. Steph, that’s interesting! I also didn’t think the mystery was that compelling, but I thought the details were there to drive his point home about violence against women. I don’t think it was gratuitous, but I would agree that it was over the top and definitely intended to shock, but honestly that’s what I expect from a book like this…sensationalism, if you will, kind of like a tabloid. But I agree he could have definitely tightened things up a bit.

    Jackie, I don’t think I would have given it a second thought if I hadn’t experienced that other reaction against Rosoff’s book that just seemed so…extreme. I wouldn’t say that I was impressed by this book, but I thought it was entertaining. I didn’t have very high expectations, though–I expected a pulp mystery, and I feel like that’s what I got, and that’s okay.

  4. I was bothered by the violence against women in this book and was also tired of the mystery before the conclusion. I did like the setting of the story and the character Lisbeth. She is intriguing.

  5. Sherry, I agree entirely. Those were the two things that pushed me forward: the atmosphere and Lisbeth. I didn’t like the violence, but I did think there was a point to it, however over the top it was. I was ready for it to be over, though, long before it was.

  6. My eyes are moving to the right: how could I not know that there is a Waugh novel called A Handful of Dust? Dust is my life.

    Thank you!

  7. Oh please keep us posted and let us know how the book discussion goes. We discussed this one for my mystery group last year and definitely the issue of violence against women is the one area we seemed to focus most on.

  8. Iliana, it actually went pretty well. To my surprise, nobody in the group thought the violence was gratuitous, even though it was very graphic. Everyone liked the book!

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