It’s how it is about it


“I don’t hate my brother. If anything, I may pity him. He’s a complete idiot, and he’s the one who hates me.”

“He hates you?”

“Precisely. I think that’s why he came back here. So that he could spend his last years hating me at close quarters.”

I reflected at last month’s book club meeting that maybe one of the reasons I stopped reading (and essentially couldn’t stand) Pillars of the Earth was because of the violence against women that it portrayed.

Let me now retract that.

Consider movie critic Roger Ebert’s take on the content of film: “It’s not what a movie is about. It’s how it is about it.”

Reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I’m struck that violence against women (which this book has, in buckets—not literal buckets, but close) can be handled as engaging rather than unilaterally offensive, placed into context, and used for developing respectable characterizations and not just as a device for hurtling along the plot. I can’t say that I’m in love with the lifestyles of Larsson’s various characters (whose respective theme songs—trust me on this one—could be “Love the one you’re with,” “You give love a bad name,” and “Love stinks.”). But I have to admit that after a while—even with the story’s (spoiler warning!) crazed creeps and the women they’ve trapped—I couldn’t put the book down…and didn’t feel like I needed to take a shower when I finally did.

The original Swedish edition of Dragon Tattoo bore the title Men who Hate Women, which, while accurate (in spades), is not exactly the kind of thing that will keep Americans in suspense. I’m not making a feminist commentary here; it’s just that I think Americans may like a little mystery in their mysteries. With the less direct title, I, for one, was surprised at the extent to which one limited group of men in the book could hate women…and how those women (or one in particular) chose so creatively to respond.

Yes, I enjoyed reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Would I recommend it? Well, yeah, but with a strong graphic content warning.

Another point of interest for me was that this is one of those rare books I could imagine a man reading. Let’s face it—so much of today’s fiction is written for a women’s audience. But I could see a man reading and enjoying this combination mystery, family epic, detective novel, crime story, corporate morality tale, and miniature computer catalog (I swear, I’ve never seen the word “iBook” in print so many times in one place). I do have qualms about the sinister ground it covers, but, hey, I can’t police the conscience of the entire reading universe.

On now to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. That one can’t be so edgy. Not, I guess, unless the original title was UK Women Who Stabbed Their Men With Dull Potato Peelers while Reading Collections of Charles Lamb in their Blood-Soaked Nighties. I’ll let you know on that one, one way or the other.



  1. Monica said,

    October 9, 2009 at 8:06 am

    Glad you had a better experience reading this book. I’m now intrigued after checking out the link on the book as well as the one you will be reading next. I’ve seen The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society book listed on another discussion board I belong to and after checking out the link you posted, I’ll have to find it. 🙂

    • scheirmad said,

      October 9, 2009 at 8:27 am

      You know, it’s funny. A friend of mine said, “I know why you didn’t like that book. You don’t like ugly things.” And really, I think that’s not it. The Dragon Tattoo book has more than its share of ugly (yeah, really ugly), but was a much more interesting treatment–and at least it had some hope.

      The Guernsey book isn’t going to take me long. I’d be happy to loan it to you if you’re interested!

  2. Monica said,

    October 9, 2009 at 6:47 pm

    Thanks for the book loan offer! That would be great. 🙂 I’ll promise to take good care of it and not read it in the pool or anything. (reference to the new show on ABC called The Middle which I’d recommend watching if you haven’t. It is truly a mom type of show, kind of like Malcom in the Middle.)

    • scheirmad said,

      October 11, 2009 at 3:50 pm

      Sure enough! I should be finished with it soon!

  3. Amy said,

    October 11, 2009 at 7:32 pm

    Well since I am now working full time, I will miss the discussion on our book selection this month. Actually, I never finished the book, so I won’t feel so bad missing this month’s discussion. What I will miss is catching up with all my dear book club friends. I loved the Guernsey book…maybe we can meet at night so I can partake in the discussion…just a thought!!!!

    • Cheryl said,

      October 12, 2009 at 8:40 am

      Hey, Amy! Nice to hear from you. You know that I love meeting at night–and I usually try to host the November meeting, so I’ll put in a plug.

      I hope the birthday went well–poor kid looked a little bummed when I saw him!!!

      Take care,

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