London Book Club: September

Posted on November 3, 2009 in Uncategorized

September’s book club choice was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The general consensus was that most people really liked the book, though many of us wouldn’t have picked it up if it hadn’t have been a book club choice. The cover was probably the main thing that people found off-putting – its brashness and typical ‘thriller’ look meant that it didn’t come across as the type of book many of us would usually pick up, so we were all surprised at how much we enjoyed it, though one reader mentioned that they had found it difficult to get into the book at first, as lots of information is given in the opening chapter.

The discussion moved on to the central character, Salander, who many thought had seemed peripheral at first, with one person mentioning that it wasn’t immediately clear how she would tie into the plot, though she found her intriguing and wanted to know more about her. Others found themselves more interested initially in Blomkvist and the Vanger family mystery. We talked at some length about Salander’s moral compass – her attitude seemed to be that authority fails women, or that men fail women, and therefore violence against men in retaliation is acceptable, something that many of us found difficult to reconcile ourselves with. In fact, the theme of violence towards women, and especially the extreme violence that Salander’s guardian inflicts on her, made for uncomfortable reading.
Blomkvist’s relationships also sparked lots of discussion. His attitude towards women seemed fairly blasé, and many of us were sceptical about the fact that he seemed to be able to seduce any women who crossed his path – we felt that possibly this was wish-fullfilment on behalf of the author. This conversation led us back to the theme of violence against women that is so important in the book. One member of the group told us that the Swedish title translated as ‘Men who hate women’. The author really makes this point, we felt, with statistics about violence against women at the beginning of each section, but then he makes women into victims anyway, seemingly without any way out of this situation.
One reader told us that although she had enjoyed the book, she had found the characterisation forced and the information contrived. Others agreed that the extremely specific computer references – may date the book and were often rather jarring. The idea of hackers as misfits – also seemed rather stereotypical to most of us.
Other criticisms included the ‘Wenestrom affair’ subplot – it seemed to many readers to be more of a sideline than a central part of the plot, and some questioned why it was there at all, though the promise of information that will bring down Wenestrom does give Vanger the bait to entice Blomkvist to work for him. The slightly farcial element that is introduced in connection with this side of the story, where the main players trick a duplicitous employee into believing that their magazine is closing down, was also a little weak and let down the subplot, in many of our opinions. We also felt that the ‘twin’ aspect to the mystery wasn’t particularly original and has been done before, and that there were some plot holes – for example, after the murderer is revealed, his girlfriend is conveniently never mentioned again.
We felt that the book would make a good film – and the discussion centred for some time on who would play the central characters, but we eventually returned to the book itself and the question of whether it was well-written. One person found it a bit ‘clunky’, and though that the way that information is revealed didn’t feel seamless. However, it was suggested that this might be a result of reading literature in translation – unless you happen to be bilingual, there’s no way of telling whether this ‘clunkiness’ is a result of the original writing, or the translation.