The Gone Girl With the Dragon Tattoo on the Train

Here’s an interesting post by Emily St. John Mandel at FiveThirtyEight: The Gone Girl With The Dragon Tattoo On The Train:

There was a time a few years back when it seemed to me that about every third book I encountered was called “The X’s Daughter,” with X standing in for just about any occupation, title, rank and pejorative imaginable. Bookshelf upon bookshelf was filled with the daughters of generals, cartographers, lacemakers, lighthouse keepers, veterinarians, preachers and miscreants.

More recently, we seem to have entered the age of the girls. Paula Hawkins’s debut, “The Girl on the Train,” was published last year and is still everywhere: Nielsen BookScan reports 2.7 million copies have been sold in the U.S. — the actual number is undoubtedly much higher, because that number doesn’t capture eBook sales — and box-office receipts for the film adaptation reached nearly $25 million in its opening weekend. Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl” was equally ubiquitous a couple of years back. This summer belonged to “The Girls,” Emma Cline’s acclaimed debut novel, still prominently displayed in every bookstore I enter. Carl Hiaasen’s “Razor Girl” recently hit The New York Times bestseller list.

Yes, I remember many comments about the “daughter” phenomenon. I’m not super-keen on any of these titles, btw. I’m like: can we focus on the protagonist instead of her father? Gillian Bradshaw’s The Bearkeeper’s Daughter (which came out, of course, ages before the Year of the Daughter), was titled in a kind of misleading way, since in fact the story was not about Empress Theodora, but about her son. I never have liked that title, though I loved the book.

And now with these Girl books. At least the title focuses on the protagonist. I assume. I haven’t read any of them except The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. But why all the Girls?

People I spoke with in the publishing industry theorized that the Girl phenomenon started with Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series — “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Girl Who Played With Fire,” “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” “The Girl in the Spider’s Web.” That had been my assumption, too, but it appears the share of books that had “girl” in the title had already been rising before the first Millennium novel was published in the U.S. in 2008. (It was published in Sweden under a different title in 2005.) This year is shaping up to be the biggest year for ‘girls’ in fiction in decades, with nearly 1 percent of fiction titles featuring the word ‘girl’ in the title, according to Goodreads’ analysis.


Anyway, Emily St. John Mandel goes on to provide graphs and statistics and analyses and the whole thing is quite interesting. Proportion of “Girl” books written by men rather than women; proportion of “Girl” books where the titular girl dies, all kinds of things. One question I had wondered about is answered: About 2/3 of the “girls” from the title are actually women. Yeah, I personally am not keen on that. I hate being called a “girl,” even by other women. Here’s a note on that subject:

I [St John Mandel] asked my editor at Knopf, Jennifer Jackson, if she had any thoughts on the trend. “Maybe ‘girl’ hints at a vulnerability that raises the stakes,” Jackson suggested, “or an inevitable growing up in a way that promises story?”

I don’t know, could be. Those reasons almost sound justifiable. I still detest being referred to as a “girl” though.

What about it: if you’re browsing new releases that you haven’t heard about, would you be more or less inclined to pick up and look at the first page of a book with “Girl” in the title? Or would your browsing choices depend entirely on other things, like cover?

I personally prefer evocative, poetic titles (The Knife of Never Letting Go, say) and covers with plenty of color to them.

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3 thoughts on “The Gone Girl With the Dragon Tattoo on the Train”

  1. Those sorts of titles annoy me for that very reason (also “wife” books, eg The Time Traveller’s Wife), but it’s not a deal breaker. I wasn’t bothered by the name of Windup Girl, because her powerlessness in society is such a major component of the book.

    I actually did read that dragon tattoo book on a recommendation, and man, was that terrible. Blatant author insertion, clumsy plotting, and awfully inaccurate portrayal of the psychological aftermath of rape (she gets revenge, and then she’s totally fine – it’s never mentioned again).

  2. “girl’ titles, ‘woman’ titles both make my eyes glaze over. I’m not the target market.
    Time Traveler’s Wife got my attention for the time travel element, ‘wife’ got glazed over. Until I flipped through and decided it wasn’t interesting anyway.

    Shinn’s Shape-Changer’s Wife … I believe it was the whole title that caught my attention that time. And that book was worth reading.

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