Discussing “Dragon Tattoo”
Posted by: Ted Balcom
As promised, I’m writing to share some aspects of my library book group’s discussion of the controversial crime thriller, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. You may recall that I wrote earlier about my concerns in approaching this particular title because of its violent sexual content, and readers of this blog reassured me that the subject matter wouldn’t be a problem. People aren’t at all reluctant to talk about this book, I was told — they aren’t put off by the sexual brutality; in fact, they’re positively eager to share their views about the characters and the story, because this novel is such a remarkable pageturner.
Well, all that turned out to be true — I needn’t have worried. Only two people out of 20 said they were somewhat disappointed with the book. The others absolutely loved it. The ones who didn’t like it complained that the journalist, after solving the mystery of the missing heiress, should have revealed to the general public what he discovered, and also, the author spent too much time on the history of the Vanger family, with the result that all those extraneous details interfered with the pace of the mystery, which they found much more interesting. They also found it implausible that so much sexual dysfunction occurred in one family. Another quibble: the characters spent too much time drinking coffee. Is that all they ever do in Sweden?
What the book group participants did find satisfying about the book was the delineation of Lisbeth’s character. They loved her fearlessness, her amazing intelligence, and her extremely resourceful attitude. We spent quite a bit of time talking about whether or not she exhibited signs of Asperger’s syndrome. Group members wanted to know more about why she responded the way she did in certain situations — and this caused some difficulty in the discussion, since some people had read the two sequels and knew more about her, but were cautioned not to divulge details, so as not to spoil things for those who had yet to read the other books. (The same was true for the folks who had seen the film versions of Dragon Tattoo and the second book, The Girl Who Played with Fire — they too had additional information, but were urged not to share it.)
I asked whom people thought was the protagonist of the book — Mikael or Lisbeth — and that led to some confusion. I finally figured out that they were mixing up “protagonist” with “catalyst” — I silently decided that I was probably opting to be “too literary.” After I explained the definition of “protagonist,” most of the participants felt they had the deepest connection to Lisbeth; they said they experienced a feeling of great exhilaration when she took revenge on her tormentors. A couple of group members suggested the book had two protagonists, and they were equally involved with both of them. And while several participants expressed a desire to read the other two books in the series, there were others who said reading this one, although enjoyable, was quite enough.
Finally, there was discussion about the blurb on the back cover that compared the book to Thomas Harris’s spinetingler, The Silence of the Lambs. A comment was made to the effect that the first 100 pages of Dragon Tattoo are rather dry reading, more about Mikael and his journalistic ethics than about Lisbeth, with no thrills and chills at all — not at all what the cover write-up seemed to promise. But everyone kept reading anyway, and when they came into the room, they were rarin’ to talk — just what a discussion leader hopes for the most.