Shaken, and Stirred

I just finished Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Warning, if you have not read the book and are planning to read it, I am going to include spoilers in this post.  Huh.  I just read on Wiki that the original title in Swedish is Men Who Hate Women–which is a much more apt title.  Anyway.

I have had several people recommend this book to me, and I have been intrigued by what I’ve heard.  Plus, I enjoy the mystery genre very much, and I enjoy mysteries set in other countries, and there were tattoos!  (At least, I assumed there would be).  This book sounded tailor-made for me.  Because I was going to read it, I didn’t look to see what it was about.  I rather not read blurbs if I know for sure I am going to read a book.  If only I had read a bit about it beforehand.  Then again, I just read the Wiki entry, and it wouldn’t have been enough to put me off my feed.  A pet peeve of mine, but I will get to it later.

Now, I bought the book some time ago.  And I meant to read it at the time; I really did.  However, I kept putting it off, and then, I never read it.  Then, the books and the movies became a sensation, and I felt compelled to pull out the book and read it.  Someone at BJ jokingly asked if I was one of Lisbeth Salander’s alter egos (titular character).  Briefly, Stieg Larsson wrote three books (his Millennium trilogy) before dying.  People have mourned that he hadn’t been able to write more.  Intrigued, I dug out the book and started reading.

The first thirty pages were deadly dull.  I struggled to get through them, and I almost put the book down several times.  However, I plowed through, and I was soon glad I did.  The story really picked up steam, and the introduction of Lisbeth Salander was…well, let me put it this way.  I have not identified with a character like this in some time–and, that’s not necessarily a good thing.

I’m going to get all spoilery below the fold, so again, if you want to read the book without knowing what happens, leave now.

Lisbeth Salander has many tattoos.  She is a misfit, a ward of the state, probably has Asperger’s, and she’s a loner.  She is omnisexual (or as I like to say, sexual), has a photographic memory, is a computer hacker extraordinaire, has difficulty trusting and loving others, and is in her own eyes, a damaged freak.  She has sex when she wants with whom she wants, and it doesn’t trouble her much.  However, love, on the other hand is a whole different story.

In the beginning, we meet her as she’s a researcher at an investigation firm.  She is antisocial and doesn’t form relationships, but she is really fucking good at her work.  She is an anorexic blond (that’s how others describe her) who is slovenly in her personal habits, but razor-sharp in her professional detail.

Now, obviously, I do not have Aspberger’s, and while I’m a loner, I do have friends.  I am not a hacker, either, but I’m pretty obsessive when it comes to my work–or anything, really.

Lisbeth had a bad childhood which she doesn’t discuss.  She doesn’t actually talk about much of anything–until she meets Mikael Blomkvist, the other main character of the book.  By the way, the book is a really good portrayal of the current economic situation in our country, just FYI.  Anyway, she meets him because she was hired to research him, and then he found out she hacked into his computer to research him, so he hired her to help him with his current case–a forty-year old murder mystery.

In the meantime, Blomkvist (who is the main protagonist in the book) is dealing with his own situation–which includes jail-time for libel.  The book is set in Sweden, by the way.  After the first thirty pages, the book just hums along, and I am engrossed.  The storytelling is solid; there is little to no scenery to break things up (good); the characters are compelling.  I am turning pages like crazy (it’s as long as a Potter book, but way better), when the first troubling thing happens.  Now, really, major spoilery here.  Final warning.

Lisbeth’s old guardian dies (she’s a ward of the state).  Her new one, Nils Bjurman, is creepy as hell.  At first, he’s just a major pain in the ass, telling her that he will control all her finances from now on (her old guardian let her do it), and I think, control-freak and a pompous asshole.

I should have remembered that every chapter starts with stats on women being sexually assaulted in Sweden.  That should have been my warning.  Alas, I failed to heed it.

Non sequitur:  I was talking to a friend why I don’t like movies in general.  If there is a disturbing or graphic scene in a movie, it will haunt me for months to years afterwards.  Even though I know it’s *just* a movie, my mind and body can’t differentiate between real and fiction.

My best friend took me to see Girl, Interrupted when I was really depressed and The Virgin Suicides right after a break-up.  Note to Kiki:  Not the best choices, girlfriend.  Anyway, in the former, there is a scene in which one of the girls (I believe it’s Angelina Jolie) completely breaks down another girl emotionally (Brittany Murphy, I want to say) in order to get something from her (the latter).  That was hard enough to watch, but the next scene is of Daisy (Murphy) hanging from the shower curtain rod.  Suicide.  I felt it viscerally, and I couldn’t shake it for months after.

Now, I don’t feel the same way with books.  I can read about pretty gruesome shit, and it doesn’t really bother me.  Except, I forgot the one exception–rape scenes.  Especially rape scenes of characters with whom I identify.  Lisbeth’s new guardian starts to ask her inappropriate questions about sex.  She tries to answer with minimal cooperation.  The next meeting, he tells her that she will have to be nice to him in order for him to be nice to her (she needs money).  He forces her to give him a blowjob.  I’m starting to freak out.

Lisbeth cannot take being a victim, so she plots her response.  Her idea is to enact the same scene and videotape him so she can get him in trouble.  Alas, he is not just a control freak, but a full-blown sadist.  He handcuffs her to the bed…and he rapes her.  But, he doesn’t just rape her–he rapes her anally with a dildo of sorts.  Then keeps her chained up and continues to abuse her.  Until he lets her go.  He thinks she won’t do anything to him (predators usually choose compliant victims).

My body immediately seized up on reading this scene, and I could barely make it through.  I kept reading because as I said, the book is really fucking good, but my body wouldn’t stop shaking.  An hour later, I still had tears in my eyes.

Now, let me say that Lisbeth got a spectacular and brutal revenge on the creep–and I was viciously cheering her on every step of the way.

I had to quit reading when I couldn’t stop shaking after an hour.

This happened to me when I saw Leaving Las Vegas as well (except that movie sucked balls).  I couldn’t help thinking that when Pulp Fiction came out, much was made of the rape/near rape of a man scene.  I even had a friend tell me it was worse for men because they weren’t used to it.  I blasted her at the time, but now I can see what she means.

I know that rape is common place in books and movies (and real life), and I know that I can’t expect not to read about them, but for some reason, this really got to me.  And, I felt ashamed because I wasn’t past my, well, past.  It felt as immediate as if it had happened yesterday.  Since my flashbacks, I have thought more about the guy in Thailand than I have in all the years since it happened.  I can feel the helplessness and the hopelessness he inflicted in me.  I remember what it was like to be a nonentity with someone forcibly fucking me.    I can feel the victim label I wore on my forehead as surely as if it were emblazoned there in neon lights.  In the book, Lisbeth’s boss keeps thinking how she’s the perfect victim–he might as well have been talking about me.

I finished the rest of the book tonight, and it’s really fucking good.  Seriously.  If you haven’t read it, you should.  However, the rest of the story concerns a father/son serial kidnapping/torturing/raping/murdering duo, and horrific incest.  The second book is all about these horrors, and yeah, they are indelible.

I am drawn to this book and to Lisbeth (especially when she calls herself a damaged freak), and I want to read the next book (an excerpt was at the end of this book), but I don’t know if I can.  I also want to see the movies, but I have heard the scenes are in the movie, and yeah, don’t think I can deal with that.

I feel ashamed.  Ashamed that I am not over my past.  Ashamed that reading a book can be so much of a trigger, and ashamed that I can’t distinguish reality from fiction.  I don’t know why this particular book, either, as I have read other books with graphic rape scenes that have not affected me this deeply.  I feel weak because I’m so shaken by this book.  I’m rattled, damn it, and I hate feeling this way–especially for no good reason.

It brings out the self-loathing and the doubts that I am more than what I was trained to be.  A whore.  A sex-toy.  A victim.  Even though Lisbeth takes revenge on the biggest monster in the book, she is still a victim, and she is still damaged beyond repair.  She is unable to forge lasting romantic bonds, and she is even puzzled as to what constitutes friendship.

I am not Lisbeth.  I know this.  And yet, I identify so damn much with her.   Sometimes, I feel as if I, too, am damaged beyond repair.  I feel as if my sexuality was so twisted when I was a kid, I can’t possible get it to be anything approaching normal or healthy.  I think I am further along than I’ve ever been down the healing road, but I despair of ever making it to whole.

P.S.  If you suggest a movie or book to me, please let me know if there are graphic rape scenes.  I can deal with it better if I know ahead of time.  Thx.

3 Responses to Shaken, and Stirred

  1. Just because I know you’re totally ocd about detail, you misspelled Lisbeth’s name a few times up there. =)

    I had the same reactions you did to the rape scenes. And that’s why, after saying I want to see the movies, I don’t think I’ll be able to now that I’ve finished the book and started the sequel.

    Since I am currently 100pgs into said sequel, I’ll be happy to “pre-eval” it for you. But from what I gather, this one is rather similar.

    As for being ashamed, what the hell for? In fact, when I first started therapy, V wanted me to read an excerpt from that one book (name escapes me at the moment; I’m really tired). But you specifically warned me to be careful reading it right before GB showed up for a lovely familial visit, remember? Because it would trigger? (And yeah, you were very right.)

    Thing is, while you are so unique in so many ways, you aren’t in this. You’re amazingly normal, run-of-the-mill, normal, in the statistical majority, however you want to phrase it. Most women who have recovered (or are in the process) can be totally normal through their everyday lives, can enjoy sex, can have relationships, but a graphic rendition of a violent assault can drop them right back into their own hell in the blink of an eye.

    Amazing, the way our brain forms connections, isn’t it? But it’s not just in books/movies. That’s how humans forge relationships in the first place; we seek common ground. So when you blithely saw a bit of yourself in Lisbeth, you don’t get to pick and choose. It just doesn’t work that way.

    We walk similar paths, my Twin. But we walk together.

  2. I recently saw the Swedish movie and will not be watching the American version. Although I am curious as to which will be the more graphic at depicting visual images of each rape and killing. I had a hard time dealing with the movie and I typically don’t. It was filmed well and the acting was great but I do not need to see so many graphic images of abuse of women. I get the concept just fine. I don’t enjoy seeing the violence and trauma used to titillate, which is what the movie does.

    I didn’t think of you while I watched the movie. But I thought of my ex several times and knew that if she watched this, she would self-abuse. A definite trigger. In fact, about 15 triggers.

  3. Kel, the book is The Courage to Heal. Thanks for the catch of the typos. For some reason, I kept wanting to spell her name with a Z–maybe because my middle name is Elizabeth.

    I know, sadly, that I am not unique in having suffered sexual assault. I really wish I were, as you noted, it’s the norm–not the deviation.

    Shame: I should be over it, damn it. I should be past the triggers and and and….Yes, I know I am being unrealistic, but there it is. In addition, I am ashamed to have been sexually assaulted. It’s the truly insidious thing about sexual assault–the victim is felt she is to blame.

    Lisbeth: Yeah. I know. I identify with her very strongly. I still am not sure that’s a good thing. But, you and me hand in hand, twin o’mine.

    Sis, thank you for the heads up. Yeah. I know people do awful things to each other (and that there are so many creative ways to hurt a woman)–I don’t need to see it in graphic details. I probably will be skipping the movies if you think they would be triggering.