A Brilliantly–engineered Novel

Stieg Larsson’s early death is a great loss, sader still as the ten-unpublished trilogy he left behind is sweeping the globe. The Swedish title of the first novel, released in America as Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, was Men who Hate Women. That, and the quotes that he puts in his Part Separators and his storytelling manner telegraph his strong commitment to telling Larsson’s truth about men’s violence against women. There are even rumors, not yet backed up by any evidence, that he was murdered for his political beliefs.

What intrigues me is the canny way he was able to manage Point of View, the subject I’ve been teaching this summer. Technically, the book is an extended argument for large omniscient narration. We dip into key character’s heads only long enough to establish their motivation and quickly move to another character. The novel’s obvious protagonist is Mikael Blomkvist, but the reader doesn’t stay with him long enough to make it “his book”. Blomkvist has a passivity that, while it may make him suspect to American audiences, works to the overall advantage of the book and Larsson’s sweeping vision. In a book filled with manipulative controlling men, Blomkvist has the knack of lying low and letting the world come to him.

Larsson’s cleverest nuance might be related to Salander, the novel’s second protagonist, the strong female with the dragon tattoo. In a separate character-developing subplot, Salander violently turns the tables on a man who rapes her. Salander plays a big role in the major plot as well, using her hacker-investigator skills to assist Blomkvist solve the central mystery of the novel. Half Blomkvist’s age, but fully his equal or superior as an investigator, Salander falls for Blomkvist, and hard. She is one of several strong female characters with whom Blomkvist metaphorically dances for the length of the novel. Sexually, they come to him, which allows Larsson the space to weave his tale with no neediness on the part of his protagonist. This fits with his theme, which seems to be that women can do wonders on their own if they’re not subordinated, through trickery and even violence, by men. It works.

Kevin Arnold i Portola Valley, CA
Submitted: 15 May 2010

By Editor

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