Yes, I've read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. And I've seen the movie, even though it's in Swedish with subtitles! I loved the book so much that I took it with us on our trip to China this past spring and finished it despite the head cold and jet lag -- I really could not put it down.
Why? Because Lisbeth Salander rocks.
Of course, author Stieg Larsson is the amazing writer who made her rock. He had to be to combine Swedish political intrigue, alleged Nazi collaborators, and significant violence against women and turn it into an epic-length page-turner that everyone seems to be reading at the pool this summer.
But The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is much more than a summer beach read. It's an inspiring tale that can help us embrace our inner feminists.
The current buzz surrounding the trilogy of books, the Swedish movie, and (of course) the inevitable rush by copycat Hollywood to make its own version is about whether it's a stealth feminist tome or just a book that uses gratuitous sexual violence against women to promote sales. That aspect has turned into something of an uproar (and borrowing from the title of the third book, a "hornet's nest") from the grave (Larsson tragically died shortly after he turned in all three finished novels to his publisher). The first volume of his trilogy focuses on the details of a gruesome series of women's murders, as well as violence against Salander herself.
I was personally moved by TGWTDT and wasn't sure why at first -- it certainly was some slow reading to get through the parts about Swedish political intrigue. But as a woman who was the victim of domestic violence in my first brief marriage decades ago, I was taken by the strength of Lisbeth Salander when it came to controlling her own life, as well as by what seemed to be Larsson's mission as an author to educate his fiction readers about the prevalence of violence against women and how much of the world allows it to go on, seemingly unnoticed and unaddressed in any real way.
I was impressed that Larsson did not turn away or sugarcoat the theme of sexual violence and depravity against women. Other critics don't agree with me.
So the debate about TGWTDT has become this -- is Salander a feminist avenger with a look that's a cross between the new Wonder Woman and a teen boy punk rocker or just the character that allows Larsson to exploit sexual violence for the sake of Amazon rankings? Many reviewers have been critical of the extreme descriptiveness of the acts against women, claiming that it's unnecessary to write about sexual violence against women in such graphic detail.
I applaud Larsson for not turning away from the sexual violence and making his readers -- especially his male readers -- face what so many women have had to face in their lifetimes, but doesn't often get the attention that might make it go away.
I don't talk much about the period in my life when I had to deal with the fact that there was one person who thought I was deserving of being kicked, punched, pushed down stairs, and abused in a variety of other ways. For the most part, I try to keep that pushed to the back of my memory.
All of that came rushing back as I read the tale of Lisbeth Salander and felt that she spoke for me in a way I couldn't when I was the victim of violence. I hope that other readers, whether they consider this a feminist novel or not, don't turn away from the violence against her and take it as an opportunity to think about why we seldom read about the real life versions of what Larsson's written about.
Image via Barnes & Noble