By August 25, 2010 1 Comments Read More →

Stieg Larsson & Women

Ted wrote a post about how to discuss Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. How to talk about a book or a series so rife with violence and sexual violence in particular.

I just finished reading Larsson’s Millennium trilogy and found myself just as engrossed as everyone else this summer. (Every other person sitting on the bus with me was reading one of these books.)

While I enjoyed the trilogy on a pure entertainment value and read them all impulsively fast, I did have some nagging problems, namely Larsson’s contradictory attitudes to women.

Lisbeth Salander is a great character. She is strong and multi-dimensional. But her slight, boyish frame is commented on hundreds of times; one wonders why an editor didn’t trim the needless duplication or what Larsson means by the redundancy. Larsson does explore her sexuality but he exploits it too, just as he accuses the media circus of doing throughout the murder invesitgations.

Erika Berger is another strong female lead, and Larsson spends a great deal of time with her in The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. He also explores quite credibly her unorthodox relationship with her husband and Blomkvist.

But there are still so many puzzling, galling contradictions in this trilogy. Why does Lisbeth have breast augmentation? Is it an outmoded feminist view to even care? Is this a sign of low self-esteem or a brave choice that signals an empowering change? Why does he linger on so many sadistic scenes of rape and torture? In the final pages of the final book, there are two more grisly deaths of women to endure.

This article also questions Larsson’s attitude to women in his work and laments his inability to enter into a debate on this topic.

New information has emerged from a book about Larsson’s personal life in which he may have witnessed a rape and done nothing about it as a young man and that these books may be viewed as atonement of sorts. If this is true, does it change how you read his books and view his intent? How about how Lisbeth comes to view Harriet Vanger’s culpability in her brother’s actions?

But book groups can bring these questions into their discussions. I would love to hear the variety of perspectives that might emerge from both men and women.

And this is just for fun.

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About the Author:

Misha Stone is a readers' advisory librarian with The Seattle Public Library. Follow her on Twitter at @ahsimlibrarian.

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