Regular NYRB writer Tim Parks turns his attention to literary phenomenon of the late ‘noughties’ The Girl.. series and seems unimpressed by what he finds.
Parks begins by conveying the basic threads at the start of The Girl who Kicked the Hornets Nest – the arrival of Blomkvist, the numerological mystery and the strange deus ex of his daughter’s solution to said mystery. Parks notes that not only does the format of the numbers not adhere to any convention for biblical naming, thus making their casual recognition unlikely, but also wonders why a daughter who had so identified the passages would be so unconcerned about their violent misogynistic contents. In addition he note the lack of logic behind the internet-compulsive Blomkvist suddenly needing to go to a library to find a copy of the www-idely available The Bible. Parks notes ‘Larsson’s Trilogy has not achieved its spectacular success thanks to the author’s impeccable skills as a detective story writer or any scrupulous attention to psychological realism.’
Noting the biographical similarities between Blomkvist and Larsson, Parks moves on to consider the attraction of the series central character – Lisbeth Salnder, or the ‘punk’ prone to saying ‘you chaps’ and ‘gad around’. From the start the miniature heroine is marked as not merely sexual but overly so ‘ two piercings on her face and maybe in other places’. Blomkvist is automatically reduced to being a mere function of interest for describing the Girl with the voracious vagina. Naturally her sexuality, and concomitant abusive childhood, is matched by her ne plus ultra computer skills. She knows whats inside every computer before Windows has had time to load. The two characters roles now set Parks notes that the novels are really simply about sex – and how nasty, unromantic and disjuncted its modern practise is – rape, anal male rape,lesbianism, un-emotional granny sex, 3-sums and then work-place rutting between our central characters of decades age difference. Every last inch of flesh and torn clothing is detailed as the characters move along the near-superfluous mysteries to its increasingly irrelevant ending. Parks makes clear that ‘there is an element of the graphic novel in all this, a feeling that we have stepped out of any feasible realism into a cartoony fantasy of ugly wish fulfilment.’He notes no surprise when the sequels make prostitution rackets and S&M paedophile pornography the subjects of their narrative masquerade.
Seeking to find more to the series popularity than pulp pornography and unremarkable crime solving Parks plumps for the ethics, and violent effecting of, ‘retribution’ as the touchstone. He notes the books hardly deal with the drama of fear and courage typical of the genre, instead, as with the focus on good and bad sex, there is a division of the world into good and evil – rapists, abusers, Nazis, large organizations, anti-Semites and even families are the ‘bad’. In contrast the heroes are sexual liberos – alone by themselves, honest and in full visibility. Sexual honesty, openness and freedom are equated with moral virtuousness and the desire to root out corruption and crime. While Blomkvist is mocked by Lisbeth for wanting procedural justice rather than r
etribution Parks adroitly notes that, like Batman in tank-girl tee-shirts, Lisbeth never actually kills the bad guys. She may rape them with Dongzilla but ‘once she has reduced a victim to total vulnerability, fastening his feet to the floor with a nail gun, for example, she will anonymously contact some rival criminal eager to finish the job.’
The reader is spared their retribution-seeking heroine actually killing nor are they asked to ‘question his or her enjoyment in seeing sexual humiliation inflicted on evil rapists. That pleasure will not be spoiled.‘ Lisbeth is Lara Croft meets Richard Littlejohn in R18 detail. Little wonder the series has sold in excess of 50 million copies worldwide.