Paul Crosthwaite and Katy Shaw
The sub-genre of fiction dubbed ‘crunch lit’ has so far proved too reliant on conventional techniques to respond adequately to the artistic challenges posed by the global financial crisis. In contrast, avant-garde fictions from earlier decades – specifically works by Christine Brooke-Rose and Nick Land – not only suggest more compelling ways of representing market crashes but also, via their adoption of an overtly prophetic mode, exhibit a timeliness or ‘newness’ that eclipses more direct responses to the ongoing crises of financial capitalism.
'When it comes down to it, this story is not primarily about spies and secret government agencies, its about violence against women, and the men who enable it'
(Steig Larsson, The Millennium Trilogy)
Steig Larsson's Millennium Trilogy quickly became one of the biggest global publishing phenomena of the twenty-first century. As a result of their popular female protagonist, Lisbeth Salander, and section headings featuring damning statistical data about violence against women in Sweden, these novels have been celebrated as 'a vessel for Larsson's deep feminist sympathies' (The Telegraph). Challenging such views of the texts as offering a 'vision of female empowerment' (The Independent), this paper will suggest that Larsson actually uses his trilogy to create and cull female characters using the men who hate them as an ultimate expression, and celebration, of a violently patriarchal, conservative society.
Politics is at the heart of 'Nordic Noir', an emerging genre whose historical roots reside in a heavy political subtext which betrays a wider dissatisfaction with both the demise of the welfare state and the ideal of post-war Swedish utopianism. Arguing that Larsson's novels are the product of this claustrophobia - of a small country in the midst of a population crisis, frustrated at a lack of safety promised in the post-war years and experiencing a growing lack of faith in the authorities governing them - the paper suggests that beneath the veneer of a seemingly peaceful and equal nation, Larsson's novels are suggestive of a Swedish society deeply fractured by class, race and gender.
Across the trilogy, Larsson's male characters engage in physical, psychological, emotional, linguistic, legal and political violence against women as the mask of the feminist thriller slips to reveal a series of texts that revel in rape, fetishise sexual violence and act out misogynistic fantasies on the female form. The Millennium Trilogy is the product of an author who dedicated his life to campaigning against hatred yet ultimately perpetuated a hatred of the opposite sex in his own novels. Offering the violence perpetrated by ‘men who hate women’ as a physical, intellectual and emotional reinforcement of a patriarchal and misogynistic society, this paper will argue that the best-selling novels of Steig Larsson offer an uncomfortable problematisation of gender and genre in the twenty-first century.
Image by MiiiSH under a Creative Commons attribution license.