En route book review #6

I am doing more than reading books out here you know; but I rather suspect that detailed blogging may have to wait until my return for a retrospective (probably consisting of a load of stuff churned out on the flight back. Did I say churned? I meant carefully considered and written without in any way being affected by sleep deprivation).

Anyway, I was in the Blue Mountains for a couple of days in B&Bs with no telly and no internet, so I ripped through The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in a couple of days. Note that: I finished it quickly because I had the time, not because I was gripped. Without the rather fervent recommendations of a few people whose opinions I very much trust I wouldn’t have ever picked up Stieg Larsson’s blockbuster. I don’t read thrillers. I can count the number of thrillers I have read on the fingers of one hand. The last thriller I read, after fervent recommendations, was The Da Vinci Code. I really should have known better.

Not that I’m suggesting Girl is in any way as awful as Da Vinci. It’s perfectly enjoyable but I am… baffled. What is it that people find so fascinating about this book and its sequels? Is it Lisbeth Salander? Her appearance is simply an .alt stereotype – live in Camden for a year – and I can’t believe that there aren’t other feisty, calculating, independent women in novels out there. But, like I say, I don’t read thrillers and I certainly haven’t read all the books that exist. She’s an interesting creation but I can’t say I find her anything to write home about. (Literally. My parents are at my home; I am emailing them.)

Is it the feminism? I swear I’ve picked up from somewhere the idea that the trilogy was supposed to be an expose of misogyny, a highly feminist work. My friend Helen, who I’m staying with in Australia, said she’d heard that there are two translations doing the rounds – one that’s closer to the original intentions, and one that’s been toned down. I had this at the back of my mind when I started reading, helped along by the stats on sexual violence at the introduction to each section. And yet… Larsson seems to follow the (as far as I can tell; have I mentioned I don’t read thrillers?) convention of including as much extreme violence and sexual perversion as he can get away with. If he really did want to expose some social issues in Sweden, why hit the outside edges that people can dismiss with a ‘ah, that’s just fiction, and if it is real, it’s just one psycho in a million’. Why does Lisbeth’s guardian have to – and here I have no problem including spoilers, since I am probably the last person in the UK to read it – anally rape her? What would have been wrong with some more subtle, but equally devasting, manipulation? Why does he have to be a sadist? Why does he have to be categorised in a way that men can read it and think ‘I’m not like him’, rather than a ‘normal’ bloke who gets off on having power over women? And as for the torture chamber in the basement… I’m sorry, but that was so ridiculous if I hadn’t been in a restaurant eating some rather nice pumpkin lasagne I would have laughed out loud. But maybe I’ve got this whole feminist thing wrong, maybe I’ve got the fluffier version, maybe I’m judging it too harshly.

(I couldn’t help also raising an eyebrow over the amount of sex Mikael gets – from women happily offering themselves to him. Ah, Mikael the investigative journalist, the creation of an investigative journalist. Wish fulfilment much?)

Help me please – as far as I can see, it’s torture porn thriller stuff. It’s better-than-your-usual-crap torture porn thriller stuff, but I’m not going to give it a pass just because, for once, there’s an interesting female lead (you may have got the impression I don’t read thrillers. I’m thinking it’s a sad indictment of the genre if decent women characters are so hard to come by that everyone gets so excited by this one. Or is there more to it?). As it stands, I won’t be reading the second book – especially not on the basis of the excerpt included at the end of Book 1 (more torture porn).

From what I can gather about Larsson, he did some excellent work on right-wing extremism – I think it would be a shame if his legacy turns out to be ‘some thriller novels’, that I suspect may date as quickly as the iBooks the characters love so much.

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2 responses to “En route book review #6

  1. Marie April 15, 2010 at 11:16 am

    Well there’s no point at all reading the second one if you didn’t like the first (which I loved) but in defense of Mr Larsson, while it looks a lot like the excerpt from book 2 at the end of 1 is more torture porn, in fact it’s something rather more interesting… As a general point, there’s a lot less sadistic sex in the rest of the series.

  2. Rachel April 15, 2010 at 1:58 pm

    I’m quite pleased… it felt a bit like the excerpt was chosen by the publisher for titillation purposes. *frowns* I didn’t hate the book, I was left feeling more ‘meh’ and confused as to why everyone else seems to love it so much. I think I’m just not cut out for thrillers.

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