Manny's Reviews > Sprängaren

Sprängaren by Liza Marklund
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Dec 07, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: swedish-norwegian-and-danish, too-sexy-for-maiden-aunts, not-the-whole-truth
Read in January, 2001

After posting my review of Livstid yesterday, I had a long online discussion with notgettingenough about the meaning of the word "feminism", and whether it was a good thing. It says something about the power of Liza Marklund's novels that, after reading one, I found myself in the curious situation of being a man defending feminism to a woman.

Marklund is a single-issue author: she's writing to support her notion of feminism. This word can indeed be interpreted in many ways. Marklund is using it in a narrow sense. She thinks that women are not treated well at most places of work, and that this is very wrong. She shows over and over again how men refuse to accept that women can do as good a job as they can, even in cases when it is quite clear that the woman is in fact performing better than her male colleagues. Her novels are full of examples of men using crude, sexist sterotypes to downplay women's ability to contribute and to marginalize them. She shows how painful this is for women, and what a dreadful effect it can have on their self-esteem and mental health.

She's very convincing. It's particularly frightening that she's writing about Sweden, which is probably the fairest and least gender-biased country in the world. If it's this bad in Sweden, it's clearly going to be much worse nearly everywhere else. It would be easy to say that, since Swedish women have such a good deal compared to women elsewhere, she should shut up. Another way of looking at it is that Swedish women have made enough progress towards sexual equality that they can say this kind of thing and be taken seriously. Several of Marklund's novels have topped the Swedish bestseller list. I view that as extremely positive.

In my humble opinion, one of the reasons why feminism has done so well in Sweden is that Swedish feminists, like Marklund, have intelligently prioritised their demands. They have focussed on equality in the workplace, reasoning that, if they can succeed there, the rest will follow. Marklund believes passionately that women should support each other at work. She is not trying to convince you that sex is rape, that all women should be lesbians, or anything remotely similar. Annika Bengtzon, the heroine of her series, is heterosexual and perfectly happy with her sexual orientation. She has had a complicated and messy private life, which, at least as far as I can see, is in no way intended as feminist propaganda. In Paradiset, she got involved with Thomas, a married man, who ends up divorcing his wife and marrying her. In Livstid, Thomas leaves Annika for another woman. In private life, Marklund clearly believes that all's fair in love and war. Marklund is splendidly bitchy about Annika's rivals - inter alia, we learn that one of them is frigid and has really small boobs. This is one of the things that gives the series its undeniable charm, and stops it from being a dull piece of feminist preaching.

As you can tell, she sold me, and I'm not even a woman. Most people consider Sprängaren to be her best book. I really liked it.
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message 1: by notgettingenough (last edited Aug 22, 2010 08:05PM) (new)

notgettingenough It’s funny that this is the particular theme of the book, as I can’t imagine anything less feminist. So, this is how things are. The moment things get the least bit nasty, the moment a bloke says something to a girl which is probably very mild compared with the bitchy things the women are saying about each other behind their backs (your author makes that clear), women fall apart. The so-called feminists think that means you have to change how men behave. But why doesn’t it mean changing how women behave? Why can’t they simply toughen up and behave like human beings instead of like girls? It’s not like they can’t. We have many, many examples of tough-as-nails women who behave like men and are therefore successful in a ‘man’s’ world. Isn’t Thatcher a magnificent example? Do you think she used to go off crying, ‘He said something nasty about me?’ Or do you think she behaved like a human being, tough and determined? Hilary Clinton. What shit she had to take from Obama, especially given he was allowed to make sexist comments in his campaign while she wasn’t allowed to make racist ones…and yet she never for a moment looked other than hard as. Well, politics gives any number of examples, of course they will be there in business etc too.

I play bridge and I am now formally ashamed at how women behave there. They behave like girls. They behave like the moment everything isn’t ‘nice’ they are going to crack up. To me that means get out, you belong somewhere else. To feminists it apparently means men have to be reeducated…not that it is only men that are the issue, women at the top will be just as threatening. I played in a world championship once, after making the terrible mistake of qualifying for the Australian women’s team. Honestly. The moment the rest of my team played women at the top – some of the rare women who behave like human beings and not like girls – they fell apart. They wanted a tea party. They should have gone to one.

I could only apologise for the behaviour of female players for just so long. I mean, years and years and years, but just so long. They are (yes, yes, generalisation) pathetic and eventually I realised that there was no more to it. They think like girls, they behave like girls, they react like girls. Well, so go play with the girls.

I don’t see that the work environment you describe is any different. Please don’t tell me that bullying is some special thing that men do to women. It isn’t. Men are bullied and picked on and discriminated against from the moment their CV is read all the time. But we see it as something special if women cry because a man says something that isn’t perfectly nice to them. I’m not suggesting that men should be badly behaved to women, me, I think everybody should be well-behaved all the time. But if they aren’t so what? The worst thing is that men who get picked on aren’t even allowed to say so, they have to take it on the chin whereas women get to cry ‘sexist’ and behave like it is something special when they cope it. I have a friend who works in one of Australia’s biggest companies and he has always felt that there is a power group in the company that has such influence that you have to be Roman Catholic to progress. He isn’t. Well, you know. He gets on with it. What else?

I wonder if it has to do with this movement that’s been around for quite a while, courtesy, I understand, of women. That movement in schools where children aren’t allowed to compete properly any more. The one where everybody wins a prize, not the kids who did best. It has to be nice for all the children. Everybody has to feel equally good. The malaise that results has become known as the ‘feel good’ generation, as opposed to the previous ‘do good’ generation, of which I think I was about the last to go through. These kids get out in the big wide world and – hey – it turns out that everything isn’t going to be ‘feel good’ all the time and they can’t cope with it.

I’m not saying that all women behave like girls – thankfully they don’t. But if you behave like a girl, why do other people have to change their behaviour to fit in with your ‘sensibilities’? Why can’t you be the one that changes? I guess for me I don’t see that women behave better than men in some way that means it is men that should change their behaviour.

One of the things I’ve done in life is play a lot of bridge for money, which has frequently meant playing with misogynists. It was terribly important to get on with them, it didn’t mean some hypothetical promotion or whether doing my job would be nice or not, it meant whether or not I’d get blown out of the game. They had to want to win with me and they ‘hated’ women and they thought women couldn’t play….etc. I never had an issue for long and I never had to compromise my principles either. I behaved like a human being, not like a girl. They liked that. I’d win with them. I’d win against them. All was copacetic.


message 2: by Manny (last edited Aug 18, 2010 02:52AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Manny You know, I'm just telling you what you'll find in this book if you read it. Maybe you should take a look and find out what you think of it!

I see your argument, but what worries me is that it can surely be extended to justify any kind of discrimination, at any level. You just say that the women/blacks/Catholics should be able to deal with the problem. Some of them are clearly making it. And as far as the rest of them are concerned, tough.

Well... possibly true, but wouldn't the discriminated-against group be wise to organise themselves? That is, after all, their most effective way to address the issues.


message 3: by notgettingenough (last edited Aug 18, 2010 03:33AM) (new)

notgettingenough Manny wrote: "You know, I'm just telling you what you'll find in this book if you read it. Maybe you should take a look and find out what you think of it!

I see your argument, but what worries me is that it ca..."


I'm sorry, but you can't compare these at all. Colour or creed does not make one a fundamentally different person in nature. Women are fundamentally different, are we not saying?

I'm not saying that women should be discriminated against. I'm saying they should behave better and that what you are describing in your review isn't necessarily men behaving badly, maybe it is women behaving badly. I don't think this applies to creed or colour. I don't mean that they should make less money than men for the same work, any more than colour or creed should affect this.

If a woman makes less or more money than a guy for the same work, one may assume discrimination. If a woman doesn't like some comment that's been made about her by a male at work, I'm not assuming discrimination.


message 4: by Robert (new)

Robert Girls aren't human beings??


Manny Women are irrational, that's all there is to that!
There heads are full of cotton, hay, and rags!
They're nothing but exasperating, irritating,
vacillating, calculating, agitating,
Maddening and infuriating hags!
[To Pickering:]
Pickering, why can't a woman be more like a man?
PICKERING
Hmm?
HIGGINS
Yes...
Why can't a woman be more like a man?
Men are so honest, so thoroughly square;
Eternally noble, historic'ly fair;
Who, when you win, will always give your back a pat.
Well, why can't a woman be like that?
Why does ev'ryone do what the others do?
Can't a woman learn to use her head?
Why do they do ev'rything their mothers do?
Why don't they grow up- well, like their father instead?
Why can't a woman take after a man?
Men are so pleasant, so easy to please;
Whenever you are with them, you're always at ease.
Would you be slighted if I didn't speak for hours?
PICKERING
Of course not!
HIGGINS
Would you be livid if I had a drink or two?
PICKERING
Nonsense.
HIGGINS
Would you be wounded if I never sent you flowers?
PICKERING
Never.
HIGGINS
Well, why can't a woman be like you?
One man in a million may shout a bit.
Now and then there's one with slight defects;
One, perhaps, whose truthfulness you doubt a bit.
But by and large we are a marvelous sex!
Why can't a woman take after like a man?
Cause men are so friendly, good natured and kind.
A better companion you never will find.
If I were hours late for dinner, would you bellow?
PICKERING
Of course not!
HIGGINS
If I forgot your silly birthday, would you fuss?
PICKERING
Nonsense.
HIGGINS
Would you complain if I took out another fellow?
PICKERING
Never.
HIGGINS
Well, why can't a woman be like us?
[To Mrs. Pearce:]
Mrs. Pearce, you're a woman...
Why can't a woman be more like a man?
Men are so decent, such regular chaps.
Ready to help you through any mishaps.
Ready to buck you up whenever you are glum.
Why can't a woman be a chum?
Why is thinking something women never do?
Why is logic never even tried?
Straight'ning up their hair is all they ever do.
Why don't they straighten up the mess that's inside?
Why can't a woman behave like a man?
If I was a woman who'd been to a ball,
Been hailed as a princess by one and by all;
Would I start weeping like a bathtub overflowing?
And carry on as if my home were in a tree?
Would I run off and never tell me where I'm going?
Why can't a woman be like me?


notgettingenough Manny wrote: "Women are irrational, that's all there is to that!
There heads are full of cotton, hay, and rags!
They're nothing but exasperating, irritating,
vacillating, calculating, agitating,
Maddening and..."


Now you have made me laugh. I hope that isn't a girly thing to say.


message 7: by Robert (new)

Robert Audrey Hepburn is one of my favourite movie stars...


notgettingenough Robert wrote: "Audrey Hepburn is one of my favourite movie stars..."

Yes, me too. To be honest, I'm glad she isn't Rex Harrison. I could look at her all night.


notgettingenough But now I have this scene in my head. Audrey Hepburn comes to work, secretary or something and what. Some guy says 'Hi slag. Here to shag us after you make the coffee?' Digs his male workmate in the ribs who chuckles vigorously. I mean maybe that works. Maybe they'd say that and Audrey would have some completely brilliant retort that would fix everything for ever.

But actually, the guys'd be trying to pick their lower jaws off the floor wouldn't they? The moment she walked in? And she'd tell them to make her a cup of coffee and they'd ask how high...And she'd say how high what. And they'd say, Oh, sorry, we thought you said jump. What did you say? Their brains will never work again.


message 10: by Robert (new)

Robert Um,well, basically...yeah. I think.


notgettingenough On the basis that I'm tediously going to be accused of being sexist, I wish to clarify, though I would have thought it was obvious, that games like chess and bridge have given women the opportunity to compete in a pure environment where one wins or one doesn't, so not dependent in any way on what a chap or a 'sexist system' thinks. They have dismally failed to demonstrate anything other than a huge margin between males and females in these essentially intellectual activities. In bridge, in fact, they are probably going backwards if anything. Imagine.

This maybe a case of inferior brains for these particular activities, but it seems to me behaviour counts for a lot. Women are crap at competing. This to me relates to how they behave in the workplace. In bridge and even in chess they are badly behaved in ways that simply cost. In the work place it could be that this is also the case. I dare say I'm not allowed to suggest it because it is politically incorrect, but what if it is true?


message 12: by Chris (new)

Chris Manny, you make me want to read this books. She should pay you.

Notgettingenough - you could be right. I don't know if I would chalk it to inferior brains, maybe brains that work differently. Maybe it's even social conditioning. I'm not sure. It does appear that women compete less than men in these type of things, at least on professional level.

I think what gets me about feminism and women (and I'm woman) is, as you say, the emotional factor. The pity me thing along with the two rule thing. Men don't do that. Why, for instance, must an all male gym be forced to accept women, but an all female gym is allowed to reject men?


notgettingenough Chris wrote: "Manny, you make me want to read this books. She should pay you.

Notgettingenough - you could be right. I don't know if I would chalk it to inferior brains, maybe brains that work differently. ..."


I was firmly in favour of social conditioning and difficulties women have due to living in a sexist environment card for a long time, but although it is obvious these come into play, it is also equally obvious that they are inadequate by way of explanation. This breaks my heart so much that it is only over the last year or so that I've been able to talk like this, but I've been involved for a long time now and it seems delusional to keep talking about external, and not internal, factors.

I find lots of what is supposed to be feminist - I think! - in our society - to be head-shakingly weird. The one where men aren't allowed to drink if their wives are pregnant - like men have to suffer because the woman is. It's a trivialisation of what is important. This is why women in third world countries often find Western women's ideas of what feminism is completely irrelevant, if not patronising.

I guess that's why I want to call myself a militant anti-sexist, but not a feminist....


Manny Chris wrote: "Manny, you make me want to read this books. She should pay you.

Notgettingenough - you could be right. I don't know if I would chalk it to inferior brains, maybe brains that work differently. ..."


Thank you Chris! I'd be very interested to hear what an American woman thought of this book.

Annika is a tough cookie, who is not given to using the pity me thing. She is proud of her ability to do her job (like Marklund, she's a journalist), and she's very good at it. She just wants her male colleagues to give her her due and treat her the way they would treat her if she were a man. As she finds out, it's not that easy, even in Sweden.


message 15: by Manny (last edited Aug 18, 2010 08:23AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Manny I think what gets me about feminism and women (and I'm woman) is, as you say, the emotional factor. The pity me thing along with the two rule thing. Men don't do that. Why, for instance, must an all male gym be forced to accept women, but an all female gym is allowed to reject men?

I would say the argument is that women are still the discriminated-against sex. But the closer they get to equality, the weaker it becomes.

I find lots of what is supposed to be feminist - I think! - in our society - to be head-shakingly weird. The one where men aren't allowed to drink if their wives are pregnant - like men have to suffer because the woman is. It's a trivialisation of what is important. This is why women in third world countries often find Western women's ideas of what feminism is completely irrelevant, if not patronising.

As I said, I think Swedish feminists have been very sensible. They have targeted goals that are clearly fair, and that can actually help women have better lives. In particular, better daycare facilities for working mothers; more maternity leave; equality in the workplace; half of all members of parliament women. Together, these have made a big difference.

On reflection, it isn't quite correct to say that Marklund is a single-issue author. For example, Studio Sex was about violence against women. But it's one of her least successful novels, and I think she may have written it because partly she felt, for whatever reason, that she ought to. It doesn't have the conviction of Sprängaren.


message 16: by Oriana (new) - added it

Oriana Manny, for the linguistically disadvantaged among us, have these books been translated into English?


Manny oriana wrote: "Manny, for the linguistically disadvantaged among us, have these books been translated into English?"

Yes, several, including this one! Though I have no idea at all how they read in translation...


message 18: by Oriana (new) - added it

Oriana Yay! Do you perhaps know what the English title of this one is?


Manny The Bomber. Looking at Liza Marklund's Wikipedia entry, it appears that there are English translations for at least the first four books in the series.


message 20: by Oriana (new) - added it

Oriana Double yay!


message 21: by Manny (last edited Aug 26, 2010 12:42PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Manny PS If you haven't already read my review of Livstid, be warned that it includes a MAJOR spoiler about this book. Sorry, I really didn't anticipate that non-Swedes would be interested! I am adding a spoiler warning now. Better late than never :)


message 22: by Oriana (new) - added it

Oriana Oh! Well not to worry -- I've got a dreadful memory, and by the time I actually get around to reading the book I'll surely have forgotten anything pertinent. : )


Manny Ah, yet another example of how important it is to be able to forget!

I have wondered several times if there is an "anti-Proust", an author who praises forgetting in the same almost religious way that Proust uses to praise memory. Though if I ever knew, it's no doubt appropriate that I've forgotten :)


Leajk Great review! I'd forgotten there were some aspects about these books that I actuallt really liked. I don't think I would get along very well with Annika/Liza as a person, but I admire what she's doing here. Interesting comments about feminism as well, there are quite a lot of people who would argue that feminism in Sweden has gone too far, so they'd probably agree about a lot of what's being said here.


Manny Thank you Leajk! I don't much like Annika (in the end, I don't think the author liked her either). But I like the book :)


Salmaed_23 Hey Please! I've just bought that book..and I don't know if I sould read book 1 (Studio Sex) first and the other..or can I start with it please?


Manny I'd start with this one, which is very good, and skip Studio Sex, which is terrible. It gives some unnecessary backstory, that's all.


Salmaed_23 thank you !


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