Sometimes politics and nonfiction writing can seem altogether too intense and we feel like we need a break. For some, like myself, reading fiction is a guilty pleasure that is re-energizing.
In that respect, the best-selling novel – the first in the acclaimed trilogy, – “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” by Stieg Larsson, is both a brilliant page turner and raises a number of interesting and important issues of our day.
The first among these is the debate over what is news and whether corporations can “own” it. Since the hero of this novel (although, over time, he becomes a secondary character) is the co-owner and editor of a pro-democracy magazine in Sweden, the entire realm of issues having to do with news comes to the fore. Who owns the news? Who controls the news? What is the importance of independent media in a world where giant monoliths and monopolies have become the norm? And, most important, what is the relationship between news, in a free and open society and democracy?
Secondly, there is the issue of both the politics and the reality of what we call mental health, neurological variations from person to person and how society deals with people who don’t fit into the neat little category of “normal.” I’ve written seven books on the topic of ADHD and learning disorders and one on psychotherapy, which largely takes on and exposes the history of Freudian psychotherapy (“Walking Your Blues Away”), and having spent nearly a decade in the late 1990s giving workshops, speeches and keynoting conferences on four different continents about learning disabilities and education, I can tell you that this entire realm of mental health, learning disabilities and differences and education is fraught with politics. Not to mention the way society turns a blind and cold eye toward the abuse of women, which often is tied back to mental health issues and social “norms.”
The initially secondary character of this novel, the young woman who is literally the girl with the dragon tattoo, has Asperger’s syndrome – it’s even explicitly mentioned in the book – and, as in my books and writings on ADHD, her neurological differences define her, challenge her and give her strengths and abilities beyond the realm of ordinary humans. Through this brilliantly-drawn character, this book in a very subtle way confronts head on the whole montage of political and societal issues of neurologic variability.
So, go ahead and read “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” and enjoy it with full knowledge that while you’re having a wonderful time reading a great page-turner of a book, you’re also educating yourself about the culture of Sweden, about the media and the whole spectrum of increasingly controversial issues that we refer to as mental health.