Book Review – The Millenium Trilogy

Stieg Larsson‘s Millenium Trilogy should be required reading in any sociology of gender course because it is a strong demonstration of the way patriarchy works at all levels of society: individual, interactive, institutional, structural and cultural.

The whole trilogy is a fictional demonstration of what happens to women who don’t know their place and won’t conform to patriarchally-established gender roles and even worse to those who fight back against patriarchal control.

This is not just the case for the central character Lisbeth Salander who is certainly the prime example of that. But this is also the case for other women throughout the trilogy: Erika Berger and her stalker as well as her relationship with the men at her new job, Sonia Modig and her sexist colleague Faste, just to name a few. The whole trilogy should have been titled “the men who hate women”.

But the pattern is clear in all three books: men of the establishment do not deal well with strong and ambitious women who are superior to them physically or intellectually. In the trilogy, the only worthwhile relationships, the only ones that work are those that are egalitarian.

Struggle for patriarchal dominance is not just a matter of interpersonal relationships. It is also visible throughout the trilogy in the power of social institutions: the police and criminal justice system of course, the welfare system, the medical and psychiatric establishment, the media, the political establishment. These social institutions are perfect example of institutional sexism where institutional routines and mechanisms work against non-conventional women.

Patriarchy is also highly visible in the amount of sexual violation that occurs either through direct rape, sexual harassment but also sex trafficking. All through the different storylines, women are perceived by patriarchal men as sexual objects to be exploited in one form or another. Sexualization is also used as a weapon against strong women to put them in their place.

On the other hand, for the “good guy-type” characters in books, sex tends to be extremely casual, for fun and enjoyment without commitment, exploitation or expectations.

There is no doubt that the trilogy is written from a social-democratic and feminist perspective. The trilogy is a strong criticism not just of interpersonal patriarchy but of the entire social structure it sustains whether it is the psychiatric establishment or secretive government agencies dominated by neo-fascists (fascism and sexism as well as hyper-masculinity always go hand in hand).

I personally think the hype about these books is entirely justified. The books are page-turners. The different characters (and there are quite a few of them) are all well fleshed out and not unidimensional. Multiple storylines running concurrently keep a fast pace, multiple threads progressively coming together until the final denouement (with only one loose thread that I can think of… I’ll let you guess what it is). The writing is very dynamic and straight to the point but the texture of the narrative is very thick and not entirely centered on a dominant couple. There is room for many other characters.

I can’t wait for Hollywood to ruin it all. </snark>

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