Sex and Revenge

So, despite having opined that there don’t need to be two movies made of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo in two years, I hadn’t actually read the novel until this week.  Now I’m even less sure there need to be two movie adaptations made.

That’s not to say I didn’t like the book, because I definitely liked parts of it.  Despite the fact that a) Reg Keeland, the translator for the English version, either did a terrible disservice by Stieg Larsson or b) Larsson is just one of the blockiest, most functional writers every to achieve international acclaim, the guy is one hell of a plotter.  I definitely had no idea who the murderer was until the very end (though I did see the twist coming, if not its cause), and the method by which the main character solves the mystery is pretty ingenious.  Once you’re ensconced in the real plot, rather than the financial mystery that frames the core narrative, the book is quite difficult to put down.

All of that said, though, the thing that I’m left with most is confusion over the novel’s sexual politics.  I think Larsson is nominally feminist: the book’s original title was Men Who Hate Women, and the book is certainly not shy about raining opprobrium and violence down on the clearly-identified misogynists who litter its pages.  I think the feints he makes towards connecting corporatism and the abuse of women are interesting, if incomplete.

But the book also certainly revels in the sexual degradation of one of its main characters, even as it’s surprisingly chaste about cutting away from sex scenes between characters with some tenderness for each other, or who are at least operating under terms of mutual consent.  I got into a bit of a debate with one of my favorite Twitter interlocutors over this, and I do think she has a point that such lingerings are an extension of the male gaze, rather than a form of truth-telling.  And the concept that retaliatory rape is a justified punishment for sexual abuse in the novel is just wrong: it doesn’t produce justice, it doesn’t necessarily make the main character safe, and it doesn’t necessarily prevent the abuse of anyone else.  It may be that Larsson believes that justice is impossible, but he seems a little romantically wrapped up in the idea of effective vigilantism, which I find troubling.  Larsson’s men may hate women.  But he doesn’t love the main one in his book enough to grant her some true healing.