The Girl Who Played with Fire AND The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larrson

The conclusion I’ve drawn from these books is that Sweden is a terrible place.  It’s always dreary.  The men are either sex offenders or waiting for an opportunity to become a sex offender. And it’s cold.

I assume, for the Swedish people’s sake, that this book is not an accurate portrayal of their country.

But the books were great!  I know I’m a few years behind it all, reading the Millennium Trilogy waaaay after the song by the same name was on the charts (remember that?  Some British artist who was super hot at the moment, and it recycled a lick from a Bond song?).  The plot was still hair-raising and suspenseful — I really wasn’t sure what was going to happen in the end.  And the HUGE cliffhanger at the end of the second book — well, I had to start right in on the third immediately.

But, as most riveting plots do, I think my family was happy to see the end of these books for me.  As twist after twist occurred, I couldn’t put it down. I was reading on my Kindle, which became an enabler to my desire to read this book at all times.   I would set it up to read while I was brushing my teeth for bed, I would set it up to read while I was blow-drying my hair in the mornings, I would sneak it out while waiting for lunch dates — it went with me everywhere.

And the trial at the end was really gut-wrenching.  What was going to happen?  How was she possibly going to get out of the quagmire she was in?  I’m trying to be vague here, in case you haven’t read the books — hopefully I’m not ruining anything for you.

And as a follow-up to my post about The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, where I really hated on the character of Lisbeth Salander (which I stand by), I will say that with the events at the beginning of “Played with Fire,” I was with her all the way.  She grew up as a a character, and she learned from her past mistakes, and she became stronger and got me to like her.  A good switch-around for any character.

But yeah — not visiting Sweden any time soon.  At least not until I become a better hacker.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

This is the first book I’ve read on my Kindle!  A word about the Kindle first — it was a neat way to read.  It took a little getting used to, but after about 20% of the book, I didn’t feel like I was doing anything different anymore.  At first it really made me feel like I was tech-savvy and cool — I’ll admit it.  But eventually, when I got used to holding something so light and using only my thumbs to “turn the page,” it just became my book.  It was also extremely fun to finish this novel and immediately start reading any book I wanted to (Pride and Prejudice — more to come…).  The only drawback I can see so far is that my book is no longer a conversation piece.  No one asks how the book is, because they can’t see the cover.  People just ask about the device.  But if they become more mainstream, that may change as well.  Then people will just have to ask what you’re reading instead of being drawn in by a luscious cover.

Anyway…to the book.

Another cool cover...

This book is a great translation.  It’s so great, that often I didn’t even think about the fact that I was reading a mystery book based on a culture I had no knowledge of.  Then, exchanges like this would pop up:

Berger turned and gave him a disbelieving look.  “You can’t be serious, Mikael,” she said.  “We’re in our worst crisis and you’re packing to go and live in Tjottahejti.

“Hedestad.  A couple of hours by train.  And it’s not forever.”

“It might as well be Ulan Bator.”

Yeah.  What she said.  It might as well be Ulan Bator, a place I’ve never, ever heard of or am likely to hear about again.  I have decided that I am going to use this as my new catchphrase when someone suggests a plan that I disappove of.  “Should we eat at Taco Bell tonight, dear?”  “We might as well go to Ulan Bator.”  Or, a professional example: “Can I write my essay as only one huge paragraph?”  “You might as well write in Ulan Bator.”  I think it translates.

[Do be sure you try the link to Tjottahejti.  It illustrates my point pretty succinctly and it made me laugh.]

Leaving aside the initial culture shock, I enjoyed this book.  I have always loved mystery novels, and this was no exception.  I love a story with a plucky hero who’s been downtrodden, a young person with an extraordinary talent, and revelations that you can figure out only a chapter or so before they happen.  I love the foreshadowing, the missteps of the characters, the dramatic irony — it’s all so fun.  I never really got into romance novels, but the mystery novel fills that space for me.  A book that I can read,  enjoy, and then be done with until I decide I’d like to read the next one.

Besides the Ulan Bator remark, this novel also gave a me a slight view of Swedish society, or at least a comparison point between what happens in a mystery in America and what happens in a mystery in Sweden.  For example, according to this book, Sweden has “dozens” of unsolved crimes since 1900.  In Sweden, I’m guessing this is a heart-pounding statistic.  I read it and thought,” Wow…that’s not bad.”  In retrospect, not the intended reaction, I’m sure.

The narrative popped back and forth from character to character — something I love.  Just when you get settled into one story, a twist approaches and then, BAM!  Another character, another twist, and BAM again.

I did get put off by the girl with the dragon tattoo.  She was like the CSI chick on NCIS — what older people think younger people are like nowadays.  “I don’t know, they like the goth music, don’t they, and they all have lots of tattoos and piercings…OH and they’ll all very good with computers.”

After all of the housing bubble and recession craziness in America, the financial intrigue aspects of the book were fascinating.  I have LONG tried to keep up and understand exactly what happened in our country, and who exactly is responsible for it…I keep coming back to some of the same conclusions — there is a level of inequality in our country that we only put up with because the majority of people don’t understand exactly how criminal it really is.  Drew and I went to see the movie The Other Guys last year on a baby-less date.  The end credits did a better job of summing up exactly what Americans SHOULD be upset about than any news program or talking heads I’ve seen.  This novel tackles some of those same issues too — CEOs acting like mobsters (or, in this case, actually being mobsters) and creating media outlets for themselves where journalists are afraid or unable to judge them impartially.  Upper management who make ridiculous amounts of money as compared to the regular employee.  I can feel my anger towards the anti-union movement in this country boiling up, so I’m going to try to keep it in control here.  Suffice it to say, I appreciate that a popular piece of literature goes there and attempts it.

Meh...she was an okay character. I'll have to see how it plays in the movie.

Sexism is a big part of this novel, too, thrown inside some graphic abusive relationships and no-mistaking-it rape.  I didn’t really like Lisbeth Salander — she was a charicature of a woman — but I guess her whole character came about when Larsson was thinking about how Pippi Longstocking would act if an adult.  I was a HUGE Pippi fan in the day, and this idea makes me gag a little bit.  Really?  Pippi would be a tattooed, pierced, sullen, violent girl who, due to Asberger’s-like emotion cues, can’t relate to people or understand any of the more positive emotions of life?  Not buying that.  Okay — maybe the tattoo part. But the Pippi I knew didn’t have much trouble showing her emotions.  Or being positive.  After all, cleaning day was a holiday for Ms. Longstocking.

But my favorite part of reading any book is when you find some relevance to the current world.  And when I was almost finished with the book, I came across this article from the Economist, talking about the societal roles and support of families in Sweden vs. England.  It lead to my favorite kind of after-school conversation with Drew — one where we think of how much better life in America would be if we didn’t have to continuously overcome this darn Puritanical work ethic.  If we could only admit that it might be better for family structure to be giving and generous with our maternal AND paternal leave, rather than thinking that fatherhood.gov can just solve that problem for us later.  If we could think a little more objectively about our whole system and then practically approach those issues with the end goal in mind, look at our country as a long term mural art project, rather than a snapshot photo essay.  Sigh.

But, ultimately, this is what I love about mystery novels.  The story is intense, the characters stock, but something about it always gets my wheels turning.  And for that, I’ll read all these books, just to see what other buttons Larsson can press in my mind.

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