Reading as a Writer: Lisbeth Salander Again!


In The Girl Who Played With Fire, the second novel in Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy, Lisbeth Salander takes center stage.  We learn more about her background and how she lives her life, how meeting Mikael Blomkvist changed her life, and how she resolves the major problems in her life.  This novel is also a murder mystery that involves Blomkvist, some of Stockholm’s finest detectives and Lisbeth’s former employer.  Those who have read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo know already that nothing about Salander is conventional, which becomes a major element in the second novel. 

First, I LOVED this novel as much as the Dragon Tattoo, if not more because Salander drives the story.  Her different way of thinking and behaving keeps us wondering what will happen next.  In fact, the only time the story lagged was the section when Salander disappears for a while and no one knows where she is.  The cops’ misadventures and stumbling hold our interest, and Blomkvist’s investigation, but the story still loses its intensity there.  Never fear, Lisbeth returns for the climax and resolution that will stun readers who haven’t been paying close attention.  Those who caught the foreshadowing in the beginning won’t be as surprised.  But Larsson still has some fun tricks up his sleeve for the ending.

Second, Larsson insures that the police are neither all lily white nor pitch black.  In fact, one detective, Faste, challenges patience, and yet his idiocy is supremely human.  I enjoyed having more of a police presence in this story, and spending more time in Stockholm.  Larsson does a good job of aiming his focus on the attitudes and beliefs of his characters, including the police, and how they affect behavior and relationships.  This is probably the most thought-provoking aspect of this novel. 

Third, Mikael Blomkvist provides a strong counterpoint to the other men in Lisbeth’s life, and for us.  He’s not perfect, but he’s more self-aware than he gives himself credit for and he respects Lisbeth.  He’s much needed in this story.  Larsson peels away the layers of behavior and the motivating attitudes  of the criminal men.  What struck me was the stark contrast between Blomkvist’s ability to empathize and the criminals’ total inability.  Larsson shows that the criminals are human beings who are missing what they need to be positive, productive citizens and full human beings.  He does not want us to like them, however, only to understand.

Fourth, Larsson structures the novel in a clever way that’s difficult to do — Lisbeth’s actions structure the overall story which is on top of the police procedural structure that propels Blomkvist and the police.  They meet in an elegant way at the end.  It’s all masterfully done.  Bravo.  I wonder, however, if Larsson didn’t actually plan it that way but simply followed his characters, discovering after the first draft what he’d done.  By grounding the story with the characters and their actions rather than the events of the story, he increases suspense and strengthens the story.

I could not put this novel down, tearing myself away from it to eat, sleep, work.  My only quibble is a small one: in the beginning, when Lisbeth is in the Caribbean, Larsson writes in a hurricane that has formed over two weeks after hurricane season ends in the Caribbean.  It really bugged me.  He could have set this part of the novel a month earlier.  I don’t think it would have made much difference and the storm would have been a more accurate detail.  Overall, I’d strongly recommend this novel, and I look forward with great anticipation to the final installment in the trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest……

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One response to “Reading as a Writer: Lisbeth Salander Again!

  1. Well, I recommend seeing the movie The Girl Who Played With Fire, if you enjoyed the book. Similarly to Dragon Tattoo, quite a bit was excised; in contrast, however, this was chopped piecemeal. The previous pair had parallel stories (missing woman & industrial magnate), so it was fairly straightforward to cut one. This is less smooth, since it’s one story arc where the focus simply shifts from Salander to Blomqvist to Police.

    Mr.T said he knew immediately that the central cop (who in the movie is a Jew) wasn’t crooked. His rationale: “no one in Sweden would ever have made the bad-guy a jew”.

    The movie just didn’t seem as richly textured as the book. And – while I’m not 100% sure which twist you meant, what I personally considered a big twist in the book was presented in a really blatant manner in the movie. However, if you only have 2 hours, and you want to be sure people ‘get it’ …

    Anyway – it’s currently @ the Riverview in Edina, and might be going to the Lagoon next (it did its 1-week stint @ the Uptown, and since the same company owns all 3, I’m not sure if it will also do the Lagoon). If you really enjoyed the book, I would recommend the movie. Just don’t expect the quality to be on-par.

    It’s a lot less sexually violent (thankfully), but still has a lot of violence. And, a big point in its favor: its pretty witty in places where the entire audience laughed (at 2 of these, Mr.T was laughing after the rest of us, because he wasn’t reading ahead of the dialogue 🙂 And, considering America’s puritanical sexual morals, oh, baby, the sexuality of the movie would never make it past an American script writer (it’s just what was in the book).

    I think your point about Blomqvist’s relationship with Salander is well made. He seems to be the one man who just accepts her as is, even if he doesn’t understand/like it. Yet – despite the 1st book – it seems like she doesn’t know what to do with him. Then again, I’m not sure most readers would know what to do with him anyway, given his relationship with his editor. A man who just takes what comes his way, with respect to personal relationships.

    I’m # 857 out of 1554 on the waiting list for Hornet’s Nest with the Hennepin Co. Library. [I used to be 1449 out of 1451, I’m moving up in the world.]

    My op ed of the movie/book is at:
    http://healthygopher.blogspot.com/2010/06/review-girl-with-dragon-tattoo.html

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