Monday, June 28, 2010

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo & Percy Jackson

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson involves a murder mystery, but the personal interaction between the characters interested me the most. The story is set primarily in rural Sweden in the town of Hedeby. Lisbeth Salander is a violent, resourceful, emotionally closed outcast who works as a private investigator for a corporation. She writes a profile of Mikael Blomkvist, a middle-aged, well-known investigative reporter and is absorbed by some of the incongruities in a libel suit against him. She obtains a great deal of information on Blomkvist by hacking into his computer, which he finds out at a later point in the book when he reads her finished profile of him. The powerful man, Henrik Vanger, who hired Salander's company to profile Blomkvist, in turn, hires Blomkvist to solve the forty-year-old murder of that man's granddaughter. Ultimately, Blomkvist wants a research assistance and, based on the high quality of Salander's snooping on him, seeks Salander.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo layers stories about Salander's vengeance against her classmates and guardian on top of a story about how the State declared Salander emotionally incompetent mixed in with a story about Salander being a silent member of a black-clad, goth clique in which she absorbs conversations without revealing personal details about herself. Blomkvist is shown from different angles - a divorced father, a friend, a lover, and an intrepid journalist eyeing the integrity of corporations and the government.

The characters in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo are multidimensional, but also provocative in opening up debate on the issue of when personal choice hurts others. The novel plays with how sex can cause pain. The book contains multiple rapes and power driven rapists. Meanwhile, it also deals with the topic of free love. Blomkvist dabbles with women, although he prides himself on being ethical and overall is written sympathetically. As Salander looks into Blomkvist's past, Erika Berger, the co-editor of the journal that Blomkvist works on, emerges not only as his colleague, but as his "occasional lover." Blomkvist never limits himself to Berger, but he has relationships with a series of women. Salander properly deduces that Blomkvist's marriage failed because his wife couldn't handle another woman sleeping in her bed with her husband. Berger is married and while her husband has no additional partners, he copes with her sexual escapades with Blomkvist.

In the small, Swedish town, Blomkvist starts having sex with a woman who feels isolated and past her prime. He disavows monogamy and explains his sexual relationship with Berger. The woman seemingly accepts Blomkvist's lack of commitment. She goes into a deep depression disturbed only by bouts of anger, however, when she's confronted by Blomkvist's lack of fidelity when Berger visits him. The relationship between Blomkvist and the local ends as the woman bitterly avoids any contact with him.

Then, Salander accepts Blomkvist's job offer. She gradually feels a bond with him and eventually initiates a sexual relationship. She knows about Berger, but the knowledge is abstract. Salander has never fallen in love before. She never has exposed her true self to anyone. She feels a tie to Blomkvist and, ultimately, feels her heart break when she stumbles upon him caressing Berger. "Free love" may satisfy Blomkvist, but he's making a series of women feel confused and devalued.

So, the book asks: can you expect a person to disentangle his or her heart from a sexual relationship? When you are in love, your partner can make you feel more secure in the world. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo shows how a woman can read promises into sexual acts that do not exist despite warnings and grapple with feelings of inadequacy when her partner shifts to someone else. Also, what counts as intimacy for one person may be interpreted differently by someone else. Salander sharing secrets, making breakfast for Blomkvist and holding onto him as they sleep may be groundbreaking for her, after growing up without a family or close friend. For Blomkvist, he defines the relationship as more of a collaboration, which is more of the same old stuff. Sex simply entertains him. Blomkvist, values independence over intimacy. He wants to wander, even from Berger.

The book deals with heartbreak, sadism, low self-esteem, hierarchy and nihilism. While it contains many themes, most relate to the fallout from corruption - the illegal workings and pretenses of a powerful corporation, the evil of a guardian raping his ward, and a father anointing himself a religious enforcer to justify... (Well, now, I'll stop there since that's just too big of a spoiler.)

I finished reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo right before Father's Day, when I went to the National Museum of Art with my cousin, Cheryl, and her husband, Mike. Cheryl is my dad's age and treats me like a niece. Anyway, we strolled through the museum and, as we looked at a painting about Zeus, she mentioned how she went to see a thunderbolt thief movie about Greek gods with the young children of her friend. I told her that I'd read the Percy Jackson Lightening Thief book and called it a Harry Potter knock-off. I told her that while the story contains a lot of action, the characters lack depth. So, I lost all credibility with her by admitting familiarity with the book. She reminded me that Percy Jackson is a children's novel. She considers Percy Jackson something a person past adolescence should dismiss.

I changed the subject, but I stuck to the topic of books. I told her that I had just finished reading the Stieg Larsson book. I guess the "dragon" in the title concerned her given my earlier comments on Percy Jackson. I assured her The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was not a kid's book about sorcery and that it was an international bestseller. I emphasized that it was on the New York Times' best seller list for a long time. I thought about trying to curry favor for the book by mentioning that the author is dead, something in common with her favorite authors, but skipped that promo. I did insist that the book offered a malaise of Swedish cynicism and several misogynists. She asked me if I wanted to go to the Museum of Natural History and look at the dinosaur bones. We did.

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