The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

You want to talk about a book that should have a big fucking “TRIGGER WARNING” label across the front of it so rape victims are aware of what they are about to read? This book right here.

While reading it I asked my partner point-blank, she’s going to get raped, isn’t she?? He declined to answer. He was afraid I wouldn’t read the book anymore and see what happens after. Wasn’t overly impressed with his oversight that warnings are appreciated, but I’ll let it go due to the over-riding mind blown reaction I had to the book as a whole.

So I’ve already dropped the spoiler that rape is a part of this story. If you haven’t read it and don’t want spoilers, do cease reading right about now.

I feel like I should explain that I have been reading insatiably since I was a wee kid. The earliest I can remember inhaling books is grade two. I have, therefore, read a LOT of books. I have not, however, read a book where the author tackles rape with all it’s intricacies the way Stieg Larsson tackles it in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

The secondary main character (lets call her) is Lisbeth Salander. She’s a ward of the state and what you would call… non conformist. I actually really like her character. She is outside the mainstream, comfortable with her own sexuality on her own terms and easily moves between male and female sexual partners without feeling the need to label herself in any way. She’s also a huge geek and a hacker. I like.

I am too lazy to write out the details of the whole story so I’ll skip to the punch line. She is raped. Violently. Sodomized too. Held against her will for hours and raped continuously. That is the second time. The first time she is raped by being forced to give the sick twist a blow job. The second time she comes prepared, you see she can’t avoid this cockstain, and has a secret camera with her.

Reading those two accounts was enough to make me want to stop reading the book. I do not like being drawn into stuff that forces flashbacks to my own rape at ALL. If you’ve ever been triggered for previous trauma you know why.

However, immediately after both rapes the author does something I have never ever seen before. He sees things through her perspective. The reader reads it as her going through the list of possibilities of what she does next. Does she report it? How will it look? Will they believe her? Maybe the first time but not the second because she didn’t report it right away. Why doesn’t she report it? Will there be any justice? Will they believe her against such an upstanding citizen when she is just a troubled kid in the system? What other options does she have?

He literally addresses a huge chunk of angles that run through a rape victims mind after her attack. At least a huge chunk of what ran through mine. He address the physicality of it, the emotional side of it, the powerlessness of it, the re-victimization of it. He, in his own way, validates the huge variety of responses rape victims have after their attack and their various ways of coping. And Lisbeth acknowledges something I wish all rape victims acknowledged. It isn’t the victims FAULT, no matter WHAT.

The next part intrigued me. I do not know if he did this to give women power back through story telling or because he realizes how powerless victims feel after or because there is so little justice but her character takes matters into her own hands, takes control and deals with the situation in a way that lets her feel back in control and is able to not only stop him raping her again, but branding the fucker for what he is. She tattooed a huge message across his chest down to his cock about the fact that he is a rapist. Even if her method isn’t what I would choose, you cannot help but love watch her handle it her own way.

The rest of the book also deals directly and repeatedly with sexual abuse, assault, rape and molestation. Throughout the rest of the book not only does Larsson never even touch victim blaming, except when addressing that it happens and it’s bullshit, he seems bent on using his novel to educate the masses on the effects of rape on the victim. At the beginning of different sections there are stats about how many women are sexually abused, the frequency and the lack of justice. As a rape victim, it’s a trip to read. There is the understanding of your situation and decisions in that book. Least there was for me.

Another thing I found was that he didn’t a-sexualize her after her rape. She is still sexually active, with women as well as men. The false dichotomy of whore = rapist fodder is done away with. She still liked sex when it was on her terms with people she wanted to engage with sexually. Fantastic.

Anyone who enabled rapists or sexual abusers, whether men or women were addressed from two perspectives, the gentler and more understanding perspective of Blomkvist the main character (upbringing, traumas, abuse, etc leads to enablers and abusers) and the hard-line perspective of no tolerance for enablers by Salander.

Another aspect that caught my attention in the book was the sex life of the main character Blomkvist. He was in an open relationship with his best friend Erika who is married (and her husband knows of this and is ok with it) and regularly sleeps with other women whenever he likes. He does so with honesty and integrity and everyone is aware of the story before jumping into bed. It was an interesting take on informed adult consent and showing a man who has many sexual partners without being sexual predator in any sense of the word. Some women are comfortable with his open relationships and some cannot hack it. Either way he is upfront about his situation and how things work in his life and all adults get to weigh this to their own standards & values and decide for themselves.

A different subject that was touched on was teens and religion and how vulnerable they are to falling prey to fanatical religions and indoctrination. It was only briefly addressed but I appreciated this subtle exchange.

I’ve totally digressed at this stage because I am in awe of the fact that a crime thriller uses it platform to make poignant social commentary and validates victims of abuse and gives them a voice they rarely have.

There was just so many intriguing elements to this book which is essentially a crime thriller. At the end there is a glaring lack of mainstream justice. When the main case is solved the characters decide between themselves what avenue justice will take. When it comes to Salanders rapes, she dealt with it and attained her own type of justice as the victim. This both grates and satisfies. The part of me that was raised to think justice is always a reality and was not aware of the brutal realities of injustice and re-victimization wants all the bad guys brought to task by the mainstream institutes of law and order. The other part of me who will never ever receive justice for rape and abuse inside of marriage fucking ADORES the justice decided on the victims terms. Have my rapist walk around with the title tattooed on his belly for anyone to see?


***Edited to add: After finishing this post I went and looked up some reviews and commentaries on Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and found many of the neglected to mention the violence against women theme of the book, some claim Larsson himself was fixated on violence against women and not in the sympathetic to the victims view I took, and many more have labeled Salander as vengeful, vindictive, vicious, violent and a few other choice negative labels. Female victim takes control and enacts her own justice = highly negative response. Fuck you and you’re safe world mentality and your discomfort at empowered, strong women. ***


  1. Dollface said,

    April 23, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    Wow! I am so interested in reading this book now…great review.

    I love the idea of being able to take matters into your own hands. I contemplated doing so after I was raped, but it never really came to fruition (for obvious reasons!). However the mainstream justice system did nothing for me either, so basically the SOB got off scot free… Which makes me particularly interested by the fact that Larsson gets what rape victims go thru, mentally, after the fact — because it’s not just fiction, the police and the DA really don’t, for the most part, do anything constructive.

    I really liked this article & look forward to reading more of your blog

    • April 23, 2010 at 5:36 pm

      Glad you enjoyed the review Dollface *^_^* Nice to have you here – I’ve been enjoying your blog for awhile now. I’m sorry to hear that you’ve also gone through rape and saw no justice. It’s one of the things that still make me angriest in life. Let me know what you thought of the book when you get finished? ❤

  2. Naizzers said,

    April 23, 2010 at 7:10 pm

    This book is everywhere and because of that I decided to avoid it like the plague lol Perhaps I should have bothered actually checking to see what it was about before making that decision but between the DaVinci Code and Twilight I distrust the general population’s choices in reading material. I may check this out now seeing as you’ve recommended it though, as much as I feel squeamish even thinking about reading about rape scenes.

    • April 23, 2010 at 7:42 pm

      It is everywhere but well respected here so I borrowed off himself. It is a fantastic crime thriller, reads beautifully and his writing is genuinely good. Also the whole thing takes place in his home country and makes for a different change of pace. The different social commentaries on Nazism, Financial corruption, rape, sexual violence and adult consent are reason enough for me to recommend it. That and I didn’t have the case solved in 10 fucking seconds like so many other crime novels. Do read it, I bet you’ll enjoy, despite the violence which comes with it’s own brand of justice.

    • Tom Webster said,

      April 25, 2010 at 1:52 pm

      Yeah the book is everywhere but for once there is a valid reason for this, it is quite simply a damn fine read. Not to mention that the millenium trilogy was around for quite a while before the books were even translated into English, yet alone became popular.

      The other two books in the trilogy are easilly as good as the first and Larrson does a very good job of tackling difficult issues, seriously you need to give this a go.

      • April 25, 2010 at 2:18 pm

        I’ll be reading the rest of them without a doubt. Thanks for linking the review *^_^*

  3. Snooty said,

    April 30, 2010 at 3:25 pm

    I have to say, I have decided to avoid this like the plague. 😦 Thank you for the heads up, because really? Just no. And J is trying to convince me to see the movie. Really? I don’t think anyone wants me in enraged fucking trigger mode in an enclosed space. Someone might get cut. -.-

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