How Do You Do…”Girl with Tattoo”?

I haven’t read the book yet.

But I have seen the movie.

And I am afraid.  Terribly, terribly afraid.

The book I’m talking about is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson’s bestselling mystery thriller, and the reason I’m scared is — I’ve committed to leading a discussion about it a few months from now.  Why should that be a problem?  I have plenty of time to read the book between now and then.  It’s just that the subject matter is so — grim and unpleasant.

In Sweden, a disgraced journalist and an emotionally disturbed computer hacker team up to solve a decades-old puzzle — the mysterious disappearance of a beautiful young girl, whose doting uncle has never forgotten about her and fears she may have been murdered.  What they uncover is an unsavory cesspool of sexual abuse, incest, rape, and multiple murders.  And oh, yes, there are several graphic episodes of physical and psychological torture thrown in along the way.

It’s not that this brew doesn’t make for a riveting experience.  But even though the film is well mounted and well acted, after watching it, I felt beaten down.  I just don’t know if I have the strength to read the book and wade through all that sex and violence again.

Tell me, has anybody out there led a discussion of this novel?  And how did it go?  What kinds of questions did you ask?  Surely not the old standbys — “Who was your favorite character?” and “What intrigued you most about the mystery at the core of the story?”

I know the book has been popular.  It’s sold millions of copies, and readers are clamoring to devour the next two titles in the series.  But is it a book for discussion?  Or is it something people want to read because of all the publicity surrounding it — but on second thought, they’d really rather not talk about it?



About the Author:

Ted Balcom lives in Arlington Heights, IL and conducts workshops on leading book discussions, about which he has also published a book: Book Discussions for Adults: A Leader’s Guide (American Library Association, 1992).

6 Comments on "How Do You Do…”Girl with Tattoo”?"

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  1.' Rebecca says:

    I led a discussion on this book a few months ago, as I was reading I really did not like the book. Overall the subject was too grim and the violence was too much for me. I also had a problem with the writing style, it just seemed so below the level of other authors and at points I felt as if I was reading an argument between two teenangers instead of educated adults.
    As it turned out the discussion was one of the most lively I’d had in months, half the people in my group (there were 8 attendees) really loved the book and the other half really hated it. It took half an hour before I even got to ask my prepared questions.
    The questions my group focused on were talking a bit about Sweden and what perspectives they had before and after reading the book. I also asked questions about the main characters and their relationships with each other. More than anything I went along with whaterver the attendees were interested in, in my case they wanted to talk about the Salinger and her relationships with others more than any other aspect of the book. We also went into detail about the author’s writing style because as it turned out there were others in the room that also did not like it at all.

  2.' Brenda O'Brien says:

    I led a discussion of this book for our evening group last month. We had 9 people, age 20s to 70s, which is a good turnout. I worried about how dark the book is, but our senior member told me it was very popular with her bible study group. The length wasn’t a problem either, as it’s fast-paced once you meet Lisbeth. They’re big fans of Lisbeth, a new type of feminist, but didn’t really buy her relationship with Mikael. The Vanger mystery and Lisbeth’s problems were more interesting then the financial reporting and magazine publishing sections. We talked about parenting, the complicated Vanger relationships, coffee, Stockholm (I brought lots of maps), the movie (which I haven’t seen), blackmail, ethics,the author’s death, and a little about the second book. We didn’t talk about the rough stuff in detail, just about how it was presented in the movie. I’m still getting asked about the discussion from patrons who couldn’t make it; only one thought it was “too European”. So, have fun, because you won’t need to ask many questions.

  3.' Anna says:

    Yikes — I’ve read the book, and heard that the movie was toned down somewhat. I think discussing it would need to focus on themes and genre-bending — when I read it first I wasn’t impressed so much, because I’d read a zillion other crime novels with similar elements (Carol O’Connell’s Mallory novels first came to mind).

    Thinking about it and also talking with others, I can see that it is a bit different (“European”), the combination of genre elements is unusual, and Lisbeth’s emotional growth is literary. I think if I’d known it was the first of a defined three-book set I’d have approached it differently. I’ve now read the second book, and am waiting for the third.

    I listened to a radio program (Here on Earth, from Wisconsin Public Radio – you can download or stream it) on the topic of Scandinavian crime novels. It was really interesting — focused on the Larssen trilogy but pulled in comments and info on other Nordic writers. Worth a listen and could give some nuggets to consider for a book group.

  4.' CarolK says:

    Haven’t used this in a book discussion but have read the book and seen the movie. I’m certain there will be much to talk about. Rebecca stated “I also had a problem with the writing style”…there’s one topic right off the bat. As this is a translation you have to wonder if it is true to Larsson’s original intent and if the translation is a “good” one. Incest, abuse, mental illness, secrets, etc. should provide food for thought. I think it will be a winner. Let us know.

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