You’d think I’d know better. You’d think I’d be smarter than a two year old, who knows not to touch the hot stove once it has already burned her. Or smarter than my dogs, who know not to chew my shoes after that first loud “NO” and water-squirt.
But I am not that smart. Even after my less than stellar experience with its predecessor, I dived into The Girl Who Played With Fire last week. After a week of finding excuses to do anything else but read, I finally finished the thing. (I’ve discovered that if I suddenly start finding Facebook games and Court TV more interesting than reading that it just may be the book’s fault.)
This isn’t a book review, because with 12 million of these sold around the world there are enough reviews out there for the curious.
This is me realising that I have major issues with these stories, and wishing that their author hadn’t died so I could put some real questions to him. His protagonist is clearly his altar ego, the version of himself that runs around these stories being loved by every woman, admired by every man. And that main character is described as a feminist at least a dozen times. So I assume of course that the author himself also identified as a feminist.
Since these books aren’t that well-written and are atrociously edited (if edited at all, because how can you ask a dead man to make changes?) I can only assume that the real thing drawing in readers by the pound is the graphic sadism.
I have watched The Wire repeatedly. I’ve watched men fed to pigs on Deadwood. I’ve seen some of the most violent films ever made. And yet the graphic, almost loving depictions of violence in these books makes my flesh creep. Especially violence against women. Larsson spends page upon page lovingly detailing the grisly torture and murder of women, forcing you to imagine it word for word with skimming as your only escape. I have seen S&M porn magazines (thanks, Uncle Joe) which are less graphic than Larsson’s work. But since these are mainstream novels read by everyone on every beach there’s no shame in digesting the maggoty reek of Larsson’s imagined gore.
It troubles me because the man has a posthumous rep as a crusader, a good guy, an NPR sort of fellow. But as a writer I know the process of crafting fiction. I know how the writer puts herself in the action. Every word from a writer’s pen about the place and the action is all born from inside her head. The writer’s head has to hold these images for them to exist at all. You can hold them after seeing them elsewhere, or hold them after dreaming them up. But you hold them and you own them. There is no way that Larsson did not own these grisly passages.
And he’s getting a pass from the world, it seems, because he created this rep for himself as a feminist. In a way it seems to me not unlike the Very Nice Men who get jobs coaching team sports so they can be close to the children they hope to rape. At the very least it is not unlike the idiots who join forums claiming to have the same ideology as the rest of the gang and then start tearing the ideology down from within. I know there’s a name for it–concern trolling?
I would not ever want to see any book banned. But I think it’s fair that those of us who are still living and call ourselves feminists point out that Larsson’s style of feminism ought to be called something else.