Friday, October 31, 2014

Cephalopod Coffeehouse October 2014

I am Lisbeth Salander.

That was the realization I had after reading Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy this month.  You perhaps know these books better by the title The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Next.  Although it's just as likely that you know the name Lisbeth Salander, too.  She's become something of an icon, after all.

I was working at a major bookstore chain (since gone out of business) when these books became worldwide bestsellers, although you'd hardly have had to be doing that to know how popular they were.  David Fincher adapted the first book into a movie starring Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig, and that was my first direct exposure to any of it.  Later I read a comic book adaption of the second one.  Finally I had a chance to sit down and read the books themselves, including the mysterious concluding volume, which I remember at the time of its release being (as it turns out, inaccurately) described as basically reiterating previous material (although there's a trial involved, so of course some of it's referenced).

Okay, so I'm not literally Lisbeth Salander.  That would be pretty difficult.  Larsson was an investigate journalist, and the trilogy is based on his ideas about what that means (it remains to be seen if his native Sweden upholds this tradition better than elsewhere, or if the books are in some sense wish fulfillment), as Mikael Blomkvist finds himself involved first in the mystery of the disappearance of a girl forty years ago and then in the life of Lisbeth, who helps him along the way and then needs his help to disentangle her from the mess her life's been.

Lisbeth Salander's mess is epic and tragic, and the third book is arguably the best one because it reveals the full scope but also the emotional conclusion of her struggles as she learns to reconnect with a world that previously seemed only interested in rejecting her.  Larsson made sure readers found her more sympathetic, and that was his true genius.

So what makes me thinks I'm Lisbeth Salander?  She's the first literary outsider I've really connected with.  In some ways she's a modern Holden Caulfield, although instead of being a rebellious punk she's a young woman who's been a victim on multiple levels and has ended up socially compromised.  It's the social compromise I understand best, the instinct to shrink away from others.  For most of my life people have tried to label me as shy.  Lisbeth is suggested to have Asperger's, and maybe that's what explains her, but I think it's more that for as long as she could remember, there was little reason to acknowledge the outside world.

People can be cruel, on the outrageous scale Larsson detailed in his books, or in smaller ways, too.  Everyone wants to be accepted, but sometimes that seems impossible.  People adapt.  But sometimes miracles happen, and you discover those who actually do understand you.  The most remarkable elements of Lisbeth Salander's journey involve people like Blomkvist, who see through the surface of her life and recognize how special she really is.  We're all special for one reason or another.  Larsson made Lisbeth special in a lot of ways, but that was to keep the attention of finicky readers, readers who probably needed someone like Blomkvist to discover Lisbeth, too.

(She considers him, for most of it, to be a bloody do-gooder.)

Lisbeth herself flits in and out of the narrative.  She disappears for large stretches at a time.  The story follows other characters.  But in the end, the trilogy is a timeless piece of literature most certainly centering on her.

And just perhaps, if you read it, you'll realize you're Lisbeth Salander, too.


  1. I work in a middle school so, sadly, I'm confronted daily with the cruelty humans can exact upon one another. As such, I think a lot of people can relate to a character who has been beaten down and is trying to find a place in the world as a permanent misfit. I don't know these books except by reputation. The character certainly seems to have struck a chord with people.

    1. I was in an extremely odd position in middle school, which sort of defined me thereafter, as someone who was, perhaps appropriately enough, in the middle of everyone else, not really a part of any one group. I have no idea why kids are so desperate to divide and conquer. Survival instinct, I guess. Something stupid like that. But for what it's worth, one of my favorite teachers was in middle school. Hopefully you're like that!

  2. I liked the movie of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.


    1. It's a little surprising to me that they're still working toward making the other two films.

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