Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Thoughts on "The Girl Who Played with Fire"

By all accounts, when Stieg Larson first set pen to paper to write his “Millennium Series” books, he was doing it simply to entertain himself in his free time. Presumably, then, in reading his books we can learn what interested him. If that is the case we have learned three things: first he thought violence against women is really bad; second he was nonetheless fascinated by violence—especially violence of a sexual nature, and three he was obsessed with trivial trips to stores to buy things.

Regarding the first of these lessons all we can say is, “duh.” To pen a lengthy series of books with the goal of telling people violence against women is bad is like writing a story to expose the evils of Hitler. It is hardly enlightening and at some point you will be in danger of crossing the line from exposing into relishing and Larson comes close, if in fact he does not cross that line.

The second point goes with the first. Larson imbues most of his characters with an active, against the grain, experimental taste for sex and he makes sure that they all are shown having plenty of non-mainstream sex in a way that proposes that it is in fact very normal. It is a bit of a conflict for his theme, because at times it seems that he is proposing that unwanted sexual violence is bad, but borderline sexually violent behavior is OK as long as it is consensual.

As to the third thing we learned about Larson—he must love shopping because he spends pages describing characters buying stuff: furniture, groceries, even water bottles when they fill up at a gas station. We do not see a single character enter a store of any kind without being rewarded with an exhaustive list of what they bought.

In “The Girl Who Played with Fire” specifically, two things need to be said.

Number one: the reader will feel endlessly cheated with this story. The first one at least had a compelling mystery that served as an excuse for Larson to play with his characters, especially our titular girl, Lisbeth. Here, one must labor through 200 pages before he begins to decide what the main mystery will finally be—even though as things progress it was clear that he knew where he was going well back into the first book. When one finally does make it through to the final page (a laborious process that surprisingly become quite speedy—plot-wise—in the last chapter) it is only to realize that this volume is not a self contained story as the first one was. We will literally wait until the next volume to see any form of resolution. Agggghhhh!

Secondly, Lisbeth Salander is eventually fully fleshed out and explained. This is an unfortunate development in some ways. Mainly, this is due to the fact that Lisbeth is a completely postmodern character in her motivations and reactions to others. In explaining the reasons behind this, Larson robs the character of her essence. Of course, that is the problem with postmodern characters in fiction and in real life. Either their motivations are completely sans reason, or more often, they have perfectly logical—albeit flawed—reasons behind their thinking, which make them far less postmodern than they would like to think they are.
(For thoughts on the first book, see here.)


  1. I remember reading this and thinking, "Were all the details of the IKEA trip really necessary?" Or all the mac talk? I'm having a hard time picking up the third book, even though the second ended withsuch a cliff hanger. Looking forward to your thoughts on it.

  2. This was a bear to get through. I am not sure I will make it through the third either, especially when I heard the third movie was a big let down. Also, Deanna, I am not sure I would classify the end of Fire as a cliff hanger. Ending in the middle of a scene is just a small part of the cliff hanger, usually you want to leave a big sense of suspense as well. I am not particularly worried about Lisbeth, both because the next book is all about her again according to the English title, and I simply can't bring myself to care much.

    We'll see. :)

  3. THAT summarizes how I feel about this...I can't bring myself to care very much. Thanks for wording for me why I can't seem to get into the third book. In other news, have you read the Percy Jackson series or anything by Rick Riordan? He won't win any literature prizes, but they are fun reads. I'd be interested on your take on them someday.

  4. That's funny. Caedon was just working on a book report yesterday for school about his "favorite" book, a 39 Clues book. We came back from the States last summer with all the PJ books and several 39 clues. I will eventually get around to them, but you should see the stack that is my "to read" pile!


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