The Steig Larsson trilogy were firmly in the "Over-hyped" category for me so I decided to wait until the melee calmed down. Once it did and it was voted in as the April Book for our bookclub, I thought what the heck and bought it.
On the surface, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It kept me amused through two long and tedious flights from Hong Kong to Sydney and back again which is a fair achievement as planes are one of the only places on earth I find it nearly impossible to read (or sleep, but that's another story). It absorbed me. It scared me. It grossed me out. It was, all in all, a damn good thriller.
But there was something bugging me about it... Each new section of the book was marked with some proclamation about violence against women, for example Part One states that "eighteen percent of the women in Sweden have at one time been threatened by a man." Which made me think that the late Steig Larsson must have something to say about violence against women, but throughout the book the women were subjected to an near unbelivable amount of horrific violence, both physical and sexual. Something didn't sit quite right for me.
Indeed, I'm certainly not the first to point this out. A quick search of reviews showed that this issue has divided critics between claims that Larsson was a closet mysogynist and those who believed that Lisbeth Salander was a sort of feminist avenging angel that righted the wrongs of those who were abused. This article discussing these claims got me thinking.
Photo Credit: HereHaving studied feminism and long been a feminist I wanted to throw my hat into the ring. I don't want to accuse Steig Larsson of being a closet misogynist exactly but I think the problem is that this book doesn't entirely understand the truth about violence against women. Although there are undeniably psychopaths out there who do unspeakable things, the majority of violence against women is not perpetrated by these sorts of people. Those who beat, rape and intimidate women are, on the whole, not crazy - they're your average Joe Bloggs who come across as being very nice and normal sorts of people. Absolutely, they're the scum of the earth but they're not lunatics. On the whole women are not tortured in custom-built basements but in the spaces where you and I live out our daily lives.
By choosing to portray men who are violent towards women as psychopaths is essentially unhelpful. It hides the truth of the situation all over the world and does nothing to make us question why it happens and why nothing more is done to stop it. Lisbeth Salander is without question an ass-kicking woman who takes matters into her own hands but her actions are unrealistic. It's a cathartic read but she is the stuff of fantasy.
I wonder whether choosing the way this story played out was politically based or driven by what would make a 'better story'. Domestic abuse is not sexy in the same way as a serial psychopath with incestuous tendencies is - it's a depressing reality. Although the women who have survived the abuse and violence in this book do seem to get their revenge, I don't think that this book can be seen as feminist. It is too far outside the realm of reality and plays into the hands of necessary genre cliches. Women who have suffered the day to day actuality of abuse are offered nothing of use other than a few hours of escapism into a world where the normal rules don't apply and 'avenging angels' can inflict justice on the monsters of this world. The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo is a ripping read but nothing more.
**If you or someone you know is being subjected to any kind of abuse, please call your local Women's Shelter, Rape Crisis Line or relevant agencies.**