The Millennium Trilogy

Back when it first came out, I read The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, finding it a decent enough story but with sensibilities that were a bit problematic in the area of sexual mores. I began (barely) the second book in the series (The Girl Who Played with Fire) and decided I had better things to do. I really don’t regret it. A recent essay by Tim Parks in the New York Review of Books helped provide a full series context which fleshed out some of my unhappiness with that aspect of the series (warning: the review, as do the books, contain some graphic descriptions). Here’s part of the analysis on how the books create a moral world, divided into two realities:

What matters instead is the division of the world into good and evil, a division that begins with splitting sex into positive and negative experiences, then ripples out from that in fascinating ways. On the side of rape and abuse are Nazism and anti-Semitism (the Vanger family includes many Nazi sympathizers), every kind of large organization (which is always understood as conspiratorial and always at some point involved in preying on young women), government, the secret services, big business, fundamentalist religion, and so on.

Even families are potentially dangerous insofar as they impose a closed world in which abuse can take place, or even be taught…

On the side of cheerful promiscuity is the free person, able to move in and out of relationships and maintain more than one in openness and honesty….

Obviously there’s more, but I think this may have been what put me off. There is a breakdown of tradition and larger social realities (virtually everything big is bad) and an unalloyed and in its own way perverse understanding of humanity, relationships (especially sexuality), and vengeance. Parks suggests the problem:

There really is no suspicion in these books that his heroes’ obsessions might be morbid. Certainly the reader will not be invited to question his or her enjoyment in seeing sexual humiliation inflicted on evil rapists. That pleasure will not be spoiled.

But it ought to be spoiled. Parks’ thesis is that it is precisely the way Larsson engaged with good and evil that has attracted so many to the books, a conclusion that might cause us to have some concern if his overall analysis is right.

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