The book club is extremely fortunate to have one of the awesomest host, Raj, to provide us with Swedish snacks to go with the Swedish novel: Ikea meatballs, Swedish potato chips and a roe-pate baguette. Thanks, Raj!
We started by saying we all liked the book because it is a pageturner and realistic.
We talked much about Salander as a character. Javin noted that although she is not a “perfect victim” as described by her guardian Bjurman–she fights back against her aggressors–she is a victim of the society she lives in; she can fight a person but not against the system. Raj explicated that there is no reasoning behind Salander; she is all id. She does what she wants; she’s amoral. While Aaron suggests that she is unethical; invades on others’ privacy; hurts people as much as Martin hurting the girls–Salander is not that different from Martin–; protects herself at all cost, even by risking Bloomkvist who needs to seek treatment for his shock at the brink of death, the rest still felt that her ends justify the means and her unethicality is forgiven because she’s cool.
On the other hand, Bloomkvist, Raj stated, is charming and has a code of ethnical conduct. Aaron brought up that despite all his positive traits, he makes a lousy parent–parenthood as a main theme in the book–as his daughter shares similar traits with Harriet, and he notices them himself, and yet he doesn’t salvage the situation.
If Bloomkvist were a stand-in for the journalist-novelist, as Gavin said, then there is a certain chauvinism about the book: all women who sleeps with Bloomkvist/Larsson falls in love with him. His chauvinism is especially apparent when the women blur into each other: Cecelia looks like Anita who looks like Harriet who is like Bloomkvist’s daughter.
But chauvinism seem to co-exist with a strong feminist message: women rule. Salander saves Bloomkvist in the end and she takes control of the situation from Frode the lawyer while Harriet runs the company.
While the book is feminist, Bloomkvist, though liberal, seems to try but fail to accept gay people and as a result, there are some homophobic stereotypes. For one, the art director–of course the gay guy has to be a designer–is said to be an “exhibitionist gay celebrity” and described to be flighty and unable to hold his own. A second homophobic stereotype is that Salander’s bisexuality itself is in question: she only sleeps with women because men are jerks; but if she has to choose, she’d still choose a man as evident that she chooses Bloomkvist. The description of the novel on her bisexuality itself seems homophobic in the sense, Raj and Gavin stated, that it claims sex with men to be carnal acts while sex with women is emotional: this binary is of course a negative stereotype.
Another point that may support the homophobia argument is that although a wide range of sexual acts is depicted (such as Bloomkvist’s and Berger’s open relationship; and pedophiliac and incestuous Bloomkvist sleeping with Salander who, he notes, can be his daughter and has a prepubescent body), it is the homo sex/anal sex that is demonized. The strongest evidence comes from Martin-Bloomkvist almost-sex scene. The threat of homo sex between the men is associated with death. Another example is that Salander is raped anally and she seeks her revenge by raping her rapist anally. There are many ways which Larsson could have depicted her pain and suffering–there are many ways of S&M–but yet he chooses the kind of sex that is associated with gay men. The third example is when Salander insinuates that Bloomkvist will be raped in jail. All these images of homo sex are negative.
Despite that, we still saw the novel as a powerful one as it brings new things to the detective genre: a Nazi history that is little known of Sweden (Isaac’s point); a journalistic style (Javin); and a Girl, Interrupted character as a detective (Raj).
As a closing thought, we mulled over the change of the Swedish title Men Who Hate Women to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Aaron thought the change in title signals the change from a sociological investigative novel into a novel of individuality, perhaps catering to North American readers. Isaac said that the image of the dragon is masculine, which contrasts with “girl,” breaking down stereotypes. Dragon tattoo, Raj claimed, has a mythic power, just like Salander, but the change of title has also to do with marketing: who wants to buy a book with the title MWHW? The Swedish, naturally.