The Book Revue: the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

A pot boiler or work with merit or both?

by Staff

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo_AngledWikiLeaks and Internet sleuthing. The evocation of national security to deny information. Police coverups. Porn rings and human trafficking. 

When items like these make it into the press, the late Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy comes to mind and his obsession with organized crime and government, business corruption and human trafficking, the silencing of protestors and the character-assassination of whistleblowers. No question, as you read through the books, you’ll sense Larsson’s outrage and perhaps even experience it yourself as you make connections between the books and daily events.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the subject of the next Book Revue with host and critic Geoff Pevere, Tuesday, Dec. 14, from 6:45 p.m. at The Revue.

How much is real in Larsson's novels? How much did the crusading Swedish journalist know that he was unable to write about in his magazine? 

A lot, if you believe what Christopher Hitchens wrote in Vanity Fair: “I also know someone with excellent contacts in the Swedish police and security world who assures me that everything described in the ‘Millennium’ novels actually took place. And, apparently, Larsson planned to write as many as 10 in all. So you can see how people could think that he might not have died but been ‘stopped.’ ”

Larsson, who died of a coronary thrombosis at age 50, presumably of natural causes, used fiction to pull back the veil on power and injustice, not unlike so many novelists before him. He has good company today, as well, with John le Carré (check out his recent Our Kind of Traitor with its exploration of government ties to criminal cash.)

Here's what host Geoff Pevere has to say about Larsson's works: "The success of the late Stieg Larsson's Millenium trilogy took the international publishing industry by storm, and now the movies are doing the same. With their maze-like plots concerning corruption, violence, economic collapse and internet espionage, not to mention the unforgettably 21st century heroine Lisbeth Salander, these stories stand to become emblematic of the period in which we now live. This month at the Book Revue, we'll try to figure out why."

Of course, controversies arise: Larsson decried Sweden’s ingrained misogyny, but does his trilogy and the movies exploit what he deplores? Do the novels have any merit as literary works? Will they have any long-term effect, or are they merely a passing fad? How does his Goth sleuth Liz Salander fit in with other great detective fiction heroes and heroines?

Here are some quotes and links to prime the discussion pump:

Anthony Lane, the New Yorker, on sleuthing: Lisbeth has a gift for computer hacking, plus an ability to trawl briskly through printed files, and I found it endearing that, even as the movie tries to rough us up with tales of fascists, dildos, woodland snipers, and exploding cars, the main lesson that we come away with is: there’s nothing like a day in the archives.

New Yorker link

Hitchens on Lisbeth: “Miss Salander is so well accoutred with special features that she’s almost over-equipped. She is awarded a photographic memory, a chess mind to rival Bobby Fischer’s, a mathematical capacity that toys with Fermat’s last theorem as a cat bats a mouse, and the ability to “hack”—I apologize for the repetition of that word—into the deep intestinal computers of all banks and police departments. At the end of The Girl Who Played with Fire, she is for good measure granted the ability to return from the grave.”

Vanity Fair link

Wikipedia, on Larsson and the book: “ Larsson, who was disgusted by sexual violence, witnessed the gang rape of a young girl when he was 15. He never forgave himself for failing to help the girl, whose name was Lisbeth - like the young heroine of his books, herself a rape victim, which inspired the theme of sexual violence against women in his books.”

Wikipedia link

The Guardian’s Books Blog, on Larsson’s feminism: “The book promotes a very Scandinavian sort of equality. The message I took from it was that gender is irrelevant. We behave the way we do because of our individual characters and personal histories. In Larsson's world, it's the psychopaths who split the world along gender lines. And, boy, do they get their comeuppance.

But not everyone agrees. This f-word blog (link) rounds up the initial reviews of the book, concluding that Larsson's rape and murder fantasies are little more than sexist titillation. Melanie Newman concludes that she has "difficulty squaring Larsson's proclaimed distress at misogyny with his explicit descriptions of sexual violence, his breast-obsessed heroine and babe-magnet hero."

Guardian link

Hitchens again, About Sweden: “…it is from this society, of reassuring brand names and womb-to-tomb national health care, that Stieg Larsson conjured a detective double act so incongruous that it makes Holmes and Watson seem like siblings. I say “conjured” because Mr. Larsson also drew upon the bloody, haunted old Sweden of trolls and elves and ogres…In the Larsson universe the nasty trolls and hulking ogres are bent Swedish capitalists, cold-faced Baltic sex traffickers, blue-eyed Viking Aryan Nazis, and other Nordic riffraff.”