Friday, February 18, 2011

Men Who Hate Women

Or: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the first of the Millennium series by Stieg Larsson

Larsson’s books have been on the best seller lists in Europe and the United States for some time now. With the Swedish film versions of his books making a splash and American versions on the way, they look to be impacting culture for some time to come.

The simplest way of looking at Män som hatar kvinnor (the original Swedish title translates as: Men Who Hate Women, and it matches the story better than the chosen English title) is that it is your basic murder mystery. More specifically, it is a classic case of a “locked room” murder that occurred 40 years before the events in the book take place. That alone, however, does not do the book justice.

More specifically, the book is a sprawling tale of a 40 year old mystery, a hunt for a generational team of serial killers, a financial reporter looking for redemption, and a socially maladjusted girl who is a bit of a genius. Larsson’s pet interests in real life that make their way into the story are the evil of Nazism and neo-Nazis in Europe, the hidden societal epidemic of violence against women, and the injustices perpetrated by large corporations and capitalism. All of these nuances, along with the fact that he writes in a very readable and engaging style, make these books popular and well acclaimed.

On the other hand, this is one of those good against evil stories where the evil is clearly and blatantly shown, discussed, and thrust in your face. It is a hard read. The “good side” of the “good versus evil” aspects of this particular story is clouded by the fact that this is a decidedly postmodern take on the crime novel.

In a postmodern crime novel the truth might be discovered, but exposing it may cause more damage than the crime ever did. The authorities are not someone people can turn to for justice, because they are unable to see the evils that are being committed. The punishment meted out is determined and delivered by individuals acting as their own judge, jury and executioner. In short, it is messy. The crimes in this story are acts of terrible sexual violence against women. At the same time, the sexual lives of the protagonists in this story are about as casual as sharing a cigarette, risky and impulsive, and at times violent.

Perhaps this story is less about “good versus evil” and more about “progressively enlightened versus self-imposing power.”


  1. I was hoping you would get to these books... I just finished Dragon Tattoo and just started Playing With Fire. I am still processing how I feel about them. "messy" is probably as good a word as I can come up with right now.

  2. I want to delve into the character of Lisbeth more, but am saving that for the second book which I also just started. (Unfortunately I left it back in Dresden and am in Prague for the week-end.)

    I get the impression that she will increase in prominence as the series goes on. She strikes me as the "Clouseau" of this series. She was a minor character at the start but increased in the author's mind as he wrote.

    She is a very interesting character in that she embodies much of what people mean when they label things "postmodern."

    All in all I think this book is a good book for people wanting to understand today's culture better. That may not be a pleasant undertaking, but it is helpful.


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