Lisbeth Salander on Page and Screen

As I’m often behind the curve on the latest and greatest in popular books, I only recently both read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and saw the Swedish film adaptation.  While I’m not in love with them at the same level as many, many others, it was nice to finally catch up with “the book everyone has to read” and not have it be a flaming turd.  I’m still trying to purge The DaVinci Code and The Bourne Identity from my memory.

My enjoyment of the book centered around how much I like Lisbeth Salander as a character.  I’ve read plenty of books with “tough girls,” but this was one whose toughness came from a human place.  While she has the same battered background as many of these characters, hers is more convincing and her personality makes more sense in this context.  In the case of male authors, the characters in her place are modern male fantasy figures (sexy, smart, but needing a strong man).  Instead, she embodies many qualities women would idealize as she seizes control of her life away from those who have and would abuse her.  At the same time her very real sense of pain and introversion keep her from becoming a simple metaphor for feminism.

Also, the mystery itself is a good one.  I rarely read mysteries for this reason.  The authors I read in the genre (Chandler, Estleman, and Mosley) are adept at creating characters and worlds I’m endlessly interested in.  The solution to the murder is seldom why I’m there.  In this case, I was genuinely interested in what happened and only became more so as it moved along.

So why don’t I love it?  I wondered the same thing when I finished it.  The answer finally set in several days later:  I think Mikael Blomkvist is a narcissistic douche bag.  I also don’t care about his magazine.  These would be minor points in other novels but in this one they’re the two things the author is most interested in.  It’s no surprise given they’re patterned after Larsson and his own real-life magazine.  Much like Ian Fleming, he created a character that’s an extension of his own daydreams. 

This is where the problems seep in for me.  James Bond operates in a pure fantasy world.  Things that might otherwise be disturbing aren’t because they happen far away from reality.  Larsson’s world, though, mirrors our own including many of its horrors.  Blomkvist goes through this world being right about everything.  Sure he’s tripped up once in a while but by the end of the book he’s put away the type of corporate criminal that never really gets caught, saved a crooked family, stopped a serial killer, and screwed every woman who walks within ten feet of him.  So excuse me if I laugh at the first fan of this book who I hear refer to OO7 as a pig.

And let’s talk about women for a moment.  It’s true I really enjoy Lisbeth and would be happy to see what happens to her next.  It’s also true that every major female character in this book either gets savagely abused, has sex with Blomkvist, or both.  That doesn’t kill the book for me but does make me wonder about the author.

Again, I did enjoy the book but these things kept me from loving it.  I was long done long before I singled my issues out.  At the time, I simply thought, “That was good, but I didn’t love it.  I wonder why.”  I am a bit surprised at just how popular it is.  It’s a particularly brutal book that spends a lot of time on the minutiae of a financial publication.  It’s something to remember when people tell you it’s easy to figure out the taste of the public.

As to the movie, it’s “Exhibit A” on how you adapt a book well.  I actually enjoyed it more as it cuts out almost all of the things I had issue with.  Instead of pages and pages about Millenium, it’s troubles, and how it pulls out of them, it sums it up quickly and keeps things moving.  I wish the book had done the same.  It’s also a case of perfect casting.  I don’t think there’s a human being walking the planet who could be a better Lisbeth than Noomi Rapace.  She pretty much is the character made flesh and blood.  I don’t think they’ll be able to top her for the Hollywood version.  Check it out if you’re a fan of the novel.

On a last note, I drew several comparisons between Blomkvist and James Bond.  This has become more apt as I discovered Daniel Craig is playing him in the upcoming film.  Good casting and interesting coincidence.


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