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Lisbeth Salander the vampire slayer
- Swedish crime series replaces Twilight as female reader’s favourite read

She’s fun, fearless and female, and she has Calcutta’s women readers hooked.

Lisbeth Salander, an eccentric 25-year-old who solves crimes across continents with feminist chutzpah, has pulled the city’s 14 to 40 female readership out of the Twilight zone.

Swede Stieg Larsson’s posthumously published Millennium trilogy has become the hottest selling cult fiction series here since Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight sunk its teeth into women readers and sucked them into the world of vampire romance.

“If the young woman sitting next to you on the Metro one of these days is riveted to a book, it is most likely to be The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (the first book of the trilogy),” said a bookstore owner.

So what does Lisbeth have that the women like so much? She’s what many of them want to be — a young, independent woman who not only plays with fire and kicks the hornet’s nest, but also gets away with it.

“She comes across as a nutcase but is super intelligent. I think what makes it very interesting for us girls is the feisty character — a woman who can take care of herself. I think all women secretly want to do all that Lisbeth does,” said young Chandrika Chatterjee.

Content writer Preeti Roy first heard of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo from a colleague. “She couldn’t stop raving about it. Then I read somewhere that the book was being made into a film starring Carey Mulligan. Also, the fact that Swedish crime fiction is hot right now stoked my curiosity. Now I am hooked,” she said.

All three novels in the series — The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest complete the trilogy — have been flying off the shelves over the past three months, according to booksellers. At Crossword, all three books are in the top-five list. “Young women, starting from age 14, constitute the bulk of the buyers. Only 10 per cent would be men,” said Sidharth Pansari of Crossword.

Penguin India, the Indian distributor of the series, said each book of the series had sold around 1,500 copies in the city since April. “We need to replenish our stocks at the leading bookstores every month. Currently, we have 500 copies of each,” said Nirmalya Roy Chowdhury, the company’s regional sales manager.

“We have been running out of stocks every two weeks,” confirmed Gautam Jatia of Starmark. “The series has been doing very well in the West over the past year but its popularity in Calcutta has peaked over the past three to four months,” he added.

Starmark has sold a higher percentage of Lisbeth novels to male readers than Crossword but they are still far behind the women. “It’s not really girlie chick lit stuff although the main character is a woman. The book is as popular as Jeffrey Archer’s latest release,” said Jatia.

Advertising professional Saumya Chattopadhyay picked up a copy because he was “curious” to know why the series had become such a rage, so fast.

“The author died and the series became an overnight sensation. It must be more popular among women because the main protagonist is a woman with an amazing mind. Although somewhat dysfunctional, she bends the rules and does it better than the men. I guess any woman would aspire to be like her.”

So is no male protagonist able to stand up to Lisbeth?

Larsson does weave in a strong male character — investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist — to give Lisbeth company. Women readers apparently love him as well.

“Mikael is fantastic. What works for the series is that it has a little bit of everything, from romance to suspense to intrigue,” said fan Chandrika.

That sure is showing, on the racks and the shelves.

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