Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Corporations, Crime, and Gender Construction in Stieg Larsson's the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Exploring Twenty-First Century Neoliberalism in Swedish Culture

Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Corporations, Crime, and Gender Construction in Stieg Larsson's the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Exploring Twenty-First Century Neoliberalism in Swedish Culture

Article excerpt

CRIME FICTION AND ITS COMMERCIAL SUCCESS

SCANDINAVIAN FICTION has over the last decades experienced an explosion in crime writing, which in many cases has been quickly translated to English and other languages and successfully exported abroad. A recent example is Swedish crime novelist Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy and particularly its first installment Man som hatar kvinnor (2005; [Men Who Hate Women]). Published in English in the UK and the US in 2008 as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, it was the best-selling novel in Europe in 2008; in fact, the Millennium trilogy has sold nearly thirteen million copies worldwide (Santikos). (1) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has become a global cultural artifact translated to thirty-five languages, including Hebrew, Korean, Mandarin, and Vietnamese, with translation rights pending into Arabic, Thai, and Turkish. Launched in the US by Knopf through a sophisticated and innovative marketing campaign directed to individual consumers rather than to major media outlets, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo debuted at number four on The New York Times best seller list (Woodroof). (2) This novel is one of literary Sweden's largest international commercial successes since Astrid Lindgren's Pippi Longstocking series. It must also be viewed, we argue in this article, as a paragon for how twenty-first century Swedish culture construes itself in a global paradigm. Although contemporary Sweden appears to have successfully combined and maintained a welfare state, significant economic development, and equality in gender relations, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo reflects--implicitly and explicitly--gaps between rhetoric and practice in Swedish policy and public discourse about complex relations between welfare state retrenchment, neoliberal corporate and economic practices, and politicized gender construction. The novel, in fact, endorses a pragmatic acceptance of a neoliberal world order that is delocalized, dehumanized, and misogynistic.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is both a traditional locked-room mystery about the seemingly inexplicable disappearance of Harriet Vanger as a teenage girl, and her uncle's search to find her, and a modern thriller about corporate crime and a series of female murders. These mysteries, true to the locked-room and corporate crime-thriller forms, are solved by an amateur detective--the investigative finance and politics journalist Carl Mikael Blomkvist, publisher of the independent news journal Millennium--and his show-stopper female sidekick Lisbeth Salander--an ingenious computer hacker with a tormented past, who takes the law into her own hands and eventually swindles corporations on an epic scale. This female protagonist represents a popular-culture convention of individuality, whose gender construction clashes with standards of government authorized gender equality, mandated implementation of paternity leaves, and what are popularly perceived today as politically correct but pedestrian feminist discussions of equal pay for equal work.

Despite drawing its concrete examples from contemporary Sweden, the Millennium trilogy's domestic and international success indicates how crime fiction is one of few literary genres to reach large audiences across national and cultural boundaries and to reap significant benefits for authors and publishers. Part of the reason for this success is that the formulaic narrative strategies of plot, character construction, and setting allow for readers' recognition and satisfaction yet each crime novel involves a new investigation.

The narrative strategy of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo depends on a direct use of corporate structures, which replace character psychology and setting specificity by turning a metaphorical and implicitly global register of entrepreneurship, finance, and economics into predominant vehicles of storytelling. This interest in corporate structures reflects obliquely on the novel's commercial success but also masks and suppresses the significance of the ethically most jarring egregious crimes of the story: the cover up and depreciation of violence against, and murder of, women. …

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