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Tuesday, 11 May 2010

The Millennium Trilogy

I made this: BookElf at 12:36 pm

Greer once said ‘women will never know how much men hate them’. The Millennium Trilogy seeks to correct this. The books are, in my opinion, an exposé of day-to-day misogyny, as well as violent hatred against women on a grand scale. The male characters who perpetrate the violence or general patriarchal attitudes are either weak willed, old fashioned and out of touch with the modern world, or psychotic. The female characters are all, without question, strong, forward looking women. They are victims of abuse, but, apart from one character who is beaten so badly by her male partner she is brain damaged, they all enact their ‘revenge’ on those who hurt them in various ways, some more shocking than others, by chaining them to a bed and forcing a tattoo on their belly for example, or replying to an insinuation that they should be the ones make coffee during meetings with the reply “That would be lovely, thank you”. I was more shocked with the latter, to be honest. Vigilante violence is all very well, but real courage is asserting your right to be treated equally to everyone else, every day, subtly and appropriately, and without malice. I know plenty of women including myself who would happily smack a man’s face if he called her a whore, but I know full well that I, on instinct, would have also made the coffee. Some great feminist I turned out to be.

So why is the book’s promotion so heavily reliant upon the actions of a single character, Lisbeth Salander? She is the catalyst around all things turn, if the blurb, posters, jackets, advertising campaign focussing on the jacket (I know I am apparently the only person in the world to notice the massive advertising campaign that went with this book upon its release in the UK in 2008, but honest to God I have seen posters with that damned tattoo on them in shop fronts and railway stations, and the books has featured on Waterstone’s front tables for the past two years, as well as being available as a supermarket two for a fiver for the last year) and subsequent film posters are anything to go by. Reviews concentrate on her and the other ‘main’ character Blomkvist almost exclusively. Yet the plot that spins around Salander like a top is multi-structured, with various storylines intertwined, that adds layer upon layer to the main theme like evidence in a courtroom, with the patriarchy on trial.

Why, in the UK and other English speaking countries, are we patronised into following and identifying the books with one character, who from the outset resembles every stereotype of a ‘man hating feminist’ we have forced down our throats by the media (demonstrated brilliantly in the second book with the media trial of the Lesbian Satanists). The first book’s title, ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ not only makes us the reader automatically relate the book’s themes to the protagonist, it also patronises her, she is not a ‘girl’, she is a woman in her twenties. The book’s original title, as decided by the author, ‘Men Who Hate Women’, is far more revealing and relevant to the plot. Are English speaking audiences not considered cultured or forward thinking enough to accept a Swedish best seller that explicitly takes every form of male violence against women, from rape and stalking to verbal abuse and exclusion on the basis of male bias against the female, and exposes them as an unnecessary and irreverent evil, with a title that matches the content, or must we, as closet women-haters all, accept a watered down, character rather that theme driven promotion of, what is, in my opinion, a masterwork?

The second and last two books of the series were, for me, unputdownable. I read the last half of the second book in a night, and a school night at that, which is very bad for me. The plot that runs over the second two books is so well crafted; with mini-plots (such as Berger’s soiree at SMP) keeping us entertained enough to forgive the author for keeping us in suspense of the final outcome of the main. It is just a shame that, for me, the book will be better known for the (entirely understandable) actions of its protagonist, rather than its message, and that the heroine will always be Salander, rather than the other powerful female characters. It was only the second book that kept to its original Swedish title. I believe, the strongest women in the book was Mia Johansson, who devotes her PhD to investigating the trafficking and exploitation through sexual objectification of women. This is the ‘girl who played with fire’ for me.

There is only one reason this series of books would have changed titles, that is to make it more accessible (and therefore more marketable) to its proposed readership. By naming it ‘The Girl’… series, in a country where misogyny is rife, and within the law, as opposed to the Swedish system of accepting that the patriarchy is still there, but should be opposed at every turn (prostitution is legal; exploitation and trafficking, pimping and rape are not. Women must by law make up a certain percentage of board members etc etc) this further re-enforces the view that Britain, and other countries with an English cultural heritage, are still not ready to confront male privilege within the popular media driven publishing industry, other wise you would have massive posters in WHSmith’s windows that expose the misogyny, rather than add to it. Blomkvist says "When it comes down to it, this story is not primarily about spies and secret government agencies; it's about violence against women, and the men who enable it”. Why has it not aloud to be so in my country?

I would like to re-emphasize this is my view, and that I loved the books. I do not speak for other members of Leeds Book Club in my opinion of this matter.

Happy Reading
BookElf xx

1 comments :

Avid Reader on 11 May 2010 at 14:04 said...

I'm actually in total agreement with most of this (incredibly articulate)blog, and expecially so if people want to associate me with the writing!

I loved these books. Despite frequenting book stores, libraries, train stations and bus stops, I was fortunately never assaulted with the marketing campaign. I vaguely recall some posters way back when, but I am blissfully ignorant as to the cynical attempt to turn this character driven series into a one trick pony (with Lisbeth being the ride...sorry, couldn't resist), or indeed with the attempt to make it into some sort of feminist opus. I read it without any such expectations.

While I agree that the name change certainly could indicate a disdain for the intelligence of the English-reading world, it could also be an equally cynical ploy to come up with a unifying naming convention (such as with the first book of His Dark Material series in the USA - Northern Lights to The Golden Compass). Heck it might have been an attempt to make the book more accessable to men who might have felt the orginal title coloured the book in a particular light.

I'm certainly far more offended by the need to have 'The Girl' half naked albeit it with back turned, on the front cover.
Far more than the words, I think the image of some woman's back, intricately and sensually covered with an exotic image takes from the serious subject matter of the books.

I happen to think that Lisbeth is actually the main character in these books. Not in terms of the action, much of which is carried out by her journalist friend - Mikael, and not in terms of the set up, as BookElf has noticed, Mia was far more pivotal in structuring that. But Lisbeth has balls, she does things that make the male characters blink in shock, and at least part of the constant opression in her life results from the fact that she has never played the 'girl' card. She avenges. Sure other people set it up, but when they can't go on - she can.
Which I love (the whole hacker thing though drove me mad.) She was originally based on Pippi Longstocking - well this Pippi is armed!

If it weren't for Lisbeth and Mikael, no one would have known about Mia, and her lifes work. I'm not taking from Mia, she is a very well developed, engaging and likable character. Which in itself is a miracle as she only features on a number of pages - her impact is felt. It isn't her fault that she dies either, she's just written that way.

I would totally recommend these book to anyone who likes pacy, well written, character driven stories, particularly ones that provide an insight into the social workings of the setting.

Though I have to admit 'The Air Castle that blew up' would have been an awesome title for the third book.

 

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