Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson

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As I wrote in my last post, in an update of the old book-cover saying, a book shouldn't be avoided just because of its bookstore category. But I'm as guilty of biblio-discrimination as anyone. I wouldn't normally pick up many books from the Mystery/Thriller section, so it's probably a good thing Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was given to me as a Christmas gift, or I likely would never have read it.

And, as mysteries and thrillers go, I think this was a fairly well-written book. It's not about to win any Nobel Prizes for its deceased Swedish author, but the story definitely gripped me, especially about halfway through.

This is the first book I've discussed on here that is still apparently a bestseller. It seems a lot of people like the novel. Which, I would assume, means that a lot of people like the contents of the novel.

And, as far as the story goes, the contents are good. It kept me up far too late at least one night, and got me reading on the bus, where I normally would get motion sickness.

However, rather than focus on the story, I'm going to go off on a tangent.* I think, because I've noticed it in other books written by middle-aged and older men, that many male authors have this tendency to put sex in their books where it's not necessary for the plot, or for the development of the characters. I wrote earlier about some of my views on sex and sexuality, and I stand by those. And I believe that sex and sexuality can, and often should be, major themes in literature, because they are in life.

But the sex in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is not necessary. It is largely gratuitous, and when I read it I feel like I'm reading the fantasies of an author who wishes journalists and mystery writers attracted women like rock stars do.

Some of the sex in the book - unfortunately, the criminal acts, for the most part - actually does play a part in developing the characters, particularly Lisbeth Salander, and in moving the plot near the end of the book. But the sexual relationships between Mikael Blomkvist and Erika Berger, and between Blomkvist and Salander, could just as easily not be there. In fact, I feel like the connection between Blomkvist and Salander would have been even stronger had Larsson chosen to keep their relationship platonic - professional, even friendly, and even (and why not?) with some sexual tension, but in the end non-sexual.

Maybe such sex sells books. Maybe the main target audience is middle-aged men who crave such fantasies of stringless sex with longtime friends and copulation with women nearly half their age. Maybe I will have a different take on these scenes when I, too, am middle-aged. But right now, I think they do absolutely nothing for the book.

(Sometimes such gratuitous-seeming sex works. I believe the strange, sometimes comical, sometimes grisly sexual scenes in John Irving's Garp are absolutely necessary. Just to offer one counter-example.)

I haven't often asked explicitly for comments. But I'd like them here. If you've read this book, or others where there are either sex scenes or definite allusions to them which you could argue (whether or not you would argue) are not necessary within the work, I would love to hear your opinions. What's your take on such scenes in books? Gratuitous and unnecessary? Fun, and who gives a damn? Critical in some way I haven't understood? Let me know.

*This might be the first real rant on this blog. As such, I also want to know if I'm being clear. My point makes perfect sense to me. But that usually doesn't mean much.


  1. I'm completely with you. I've read many a book where there are some intensely explicit sex scenes. Some of them are funny, some are steamy, and some are just brutal. I don't think that a sex scene in general is essential to the plot unless we're talking about the life of a porn star or something.

    I dunno, it's not that they make me uncomfortable per se, it's more like I don't need them in order to enjoy or understand the plot and they do nothing for character development on the whole. I mean, what does the position of sex or the size of the guy's penis have to do with his personality, character, or decisions in the plot?

  2. I agree that Blomkvist's excessively "Swedish" sexual mores are a bit odd for the American reader, but believe me, there's a reason for it that will become clear in the 2nd and 3rd books. Stieg had originally planned a 10-book series, but now we have only 3, so we'll never know which way the epic would have headed. Stick with it, and check the discussion just starting on my blog: http://reg-stieglarssonsenglishtranslator.blogspot.com/

    Reg Keeland

  3. I recommend anyone reading this take a look at Mr. Keeland's blog, where he had already started a discussion on a related topic in the book (which he translated) before I posted this one.

  4. I think you have a good point here. Just like Reg, I have read the 2nd and 3rd book, but nevertheless I think part of the point of the ongoing affair between Mikael and Erika is to show how "postmodern" Mikael is. I did not review the book either, instead I wrote articles about the connection between the book and Astrid Lindgren´s Kalle Blomkvist (Bill Bergson in English) and Pippi Longstocking characters. If you should be interested in my view on Mikael Blomkvist, you can find the article here:

  5. how am i supposed to read your literary posts when you start one with "like i said"?!?!?! didn't dating the grammar queen teach you anything??? as you said...AS you said... ;) that would be my rant of the day...

  6. As I said, Lex... it's changed now. Just for you. :)
    What it taught me is just to admit when I'm wrong, and fix it without arguing. (When I'm right, though, you know I'll argue it.)

  7. much better. :) when you're right, i won't be the one arguing...