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Reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo… and when is violence too violent?

I finally gave in and started The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (actually I badgered my mother to finish it and lend it to me).  I can’t stand when everyone’s reading a book and I don’t have an opinion about it.  I don’t typically read modern-day thrillers but if everyone is reading this, there must be something there.

I’m halfway through and it’s not at all what I expected.  I heard “nonstop thrills” and “grabs you from the beginning” and “perfect plane read”.  I also heard, “starts a little slow but then you can’t put it down”. And of course everyone talks about Lisbeth Salander, and I do love a strong-but-troubled heroine.

I don’t normally write about a book halfway through but this one’s on my mind — and I was inspired by  Alley over at What Red Read, who also is struggling with this book.  Stop reading if you don’t want to know more about this book.

I was surprised to find the character of Salander is hardly in the first third of the book.  Most of it centers around a rather emotionless older man, Mikael Blomkvist, who has just been convicted of libel by writing a defamatory article about a corporate mogul.  He’s hired to investigate the 50-year old disappearance of a teenage girl.  She comes from a huge family in a very small corporate town where everyone has the same last name (thankfully there’s a family tree at the beginning of the book).

Here’s how the book is going so far.  Boring… boring… boring… boring… horrible sexual violence… boring boring.

I feel like this book kicked me in the gut and not in a good way, even though I was expecting some violence.  The first third of the book was “bedtime reading” for me – in other words, something I can read 10 pages of and fall asleep without much trouble.  Then without warning (okay a little warning) I’m reading in bed and get to something really ugly.  Makes it a little difficult to turn the lights out and go to sleep.

I don’t know about you but I have a touchy tolerance-level for violence… I can handle sword fights, gun battles, explosions, etc.  I can handle fighting by magic because it’s not real.  I can handle gore and seeing dead bodies on TV.  What I can’t handle is prolonged, individualized pain – in other words torture or rape.  It’s hard to read about violence where I can imagine it happening to me, even if that’s basically the essence of good writing.  Misery by Stephen King is an example of a book people loved and I had to put down.  Same with American Psycho.  And I’ll never see a Saw movie, ever.

I understand that horrible things do happen to people, and there’s great value in a book or movie helping us understand what some people go through.  If this book does that, maybe I’ll appreciate it more.  Right now I’m not feeling that way.

Keep reading or quit? I’m thinking if I put the book down now I’m left with a fairly gruesome image in my head (that 3 days later is still in my head).  So I should probably power on through – unless there’s worse to come?  Right now, oddly enough, the book is back to boring.

For those who read the book, what do you think?  Did the rape scene bother you as much as it did me?  And is it worth keeping on or if I’m not liking the book at this point, should I just put it down?  I’ve read so many other great, enjoyable things lately, this one just may not be for me.  But what is it that the rest of the world is loving so much?

7 thoughts on “Reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo… and when is violence too violent?

  1. I have only watched the film which was quite exciting (they took all the boring bits out) but the violence put me off reading the book so I gave my copy away. I have heard loads of people IRL complain its boring and needed a good editor but then ppl like my dad loved it so who knows.

  2. I’m further into the book (don’t worry I won’t ruin anything) and I think I see what Larsson was trying to do with that scene in the context of the story at large although I think he failed. I’ll go into detail about my thoughts on it as soon as I’m done with the book.

    As for the violence, normally it doesn’t bother me so much. I love Misery and I read American Psycho. I won’t be reading AP again anytime soon and while that violence was very graphic, it was so over the top that it becomes more ridiculous than disturbing.

    The book does get more interesting, though not quite as good as I was expecting. I guess that happens when a book gets over-hyped.

    • I think you had it right when you said it felt gratuitous. For one thing, it felt unnecessary to the story and to the character development. Also, I don’t mind an author being realistic about sexual assault if the emotional consequences are addressed, and as far as I read that didn’t seem to be the case.

  3. This is precisely why I haven’t picked this one up yet, and probably never will…I have a deep aversion to reading scenes of gratitutous realistic violence — don’t generally read books with rape scenes, psychopathic type killers, child abductions etc…I am curious to see if you do continue with this, and if you do what you ultimately think of it…

    I am gratified to read your post in the sense that I feel at times like I am the only one on the reading planet that has not tried this one 🙂

    • I decided to quit — too many other books I enjoy reading! This bothered me because it felt really unnecessary to the story, and the author seemed uninterested in really exploring the aftermath with the character. And, the rest of the story felt dull to me.

  4. I will never read this book precisely because of the nature of the violence that you mentioned. It’s the same reason why I will never read The Lovely Bones nor will I watch the movie – no matter how much I love Peter Jackson (director). I am not faint of heart, and like you, I can handle battles and murders and bloody fist fights, but when it comes to explicit/descriptive sexual violence I have zero tolerance. It could be hailed as the best book ever written and that wouldn’t be enough to get me to read it.

  5. this is a really interesting post. i didn’t feel the same way about ‘dragon tattoo’ (i mean, actually, i just started on the second book and am with you on the “boring, boring, boring” bit) and violence, but i have felt this way about other books. Pretty much everything by Chuck Palahniuk reads to me like an attempt to shock readers into caring; he piles violence on top of violence to overcome what i view as stylistic laziness. (don’t know what to write next? worried someone will lose interest? more gore!)

    your post is also interesting to me because it seems like you feel kind of obligated to read this book because everyone else is. i guess i do too; otherwise, i wouldn’t still be dragging myself through the second one. but if you don’t like it, if you’re alternately bored and repelled by the book, you shouldn’t keep reading it.

    definitely looking forward to more visits here!

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