If you start on this Millennium Trilogy thing, carve out some time. It’s like being tied to a rope and pulled behind a power boat. The boat won’t stop and you can’t let go. I just dived into my iPad (see also the October 25 commentary on “E-Books and Me.”) and didn’t come for air till The Girl Who Played With Fire was done. Neglected wife, family, housework. It was shameful. I don’t dare touch The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest for a while or I’ll have to go into rehab. I did, however, come up with another disadvantage of the e-book–you can’t pass it along to a friend. Big shame. Of course, you can’t do that with a library book either, can you? Nevertheless, print lit is still not dead in this household.
The Girl Who Played With Fire is the second of this triptych, and it’s much better than the first. And the first is only somewhat short of terrific (See the October 25 commentary.)
The difference in quality between this and the first is that the narrative never, ever sags here. Not a dead spot. Even once when I thought Larsson had made a mistake about three-quarters of the way through in giving us
a sudden killer-POV section with all the who, how, and why’s of the killings that had been consuming our curiosity for the last couple of hundred pages, it turned out he knew what he was doing. With that couple of paragraphs, the novel is in an instant no longer a whodunit, but a will-he-get-caught-and-if-so-how-and-how-many-will-he-take-down-with-him? How do you pull off a switch like that? By deepening the characters and complicating the situation–not necessarily the plot, but the internal conflicts so that the mystery is no longer the point. It’s how the characters handle the circumstances. Masterful.
Lisbeth Salander continues in her The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo ways hacking her way into this computer system and that one, dealing out her special brand of justice. For a while, it appears that we’re going to spend most of the book with her this time. There’s neither hide nor hair of our old friend Mikael Blomkvist, the crusading journalist. But Larsson is way too addicted to jumping around from one character’s head to the other to sit still for a single POV, and we’re soon back at Millennium magazine and immersed in its latest attack on the slimy and outrageous. So much so that Lisbeth disappears entirely for perhaps a hundred pages soon after our reintroduction to the publishing world.
Never fear, though. She will return. And when she does, we’re treated to one of the most painful and harrowing sequences in the history of all crime literature. Really. A mentor of mine once advised writers to put their protagonists into situations that even they don’t know how they’ll get them out of. I doubt Larsson was in the room at the time, but he heard. We’re also treated to one of those most delightful of all literary surprises–one that’s an “of course” moment in hindsight, but that we didn’t see coming at all. At least I didn’t. So often those little “ah-ha’s” have the odor of gimmick and manipulation. Not this one. We have all the information we need to make the deduction, if only we’d (I’d) been smart enough.
I repeat myself proudly when I declare Lisbeth Salander one of the marvels of literary characterization. She so overshadows the other characters that when I read Dragon Tattoo I discounted people like Blomkvist almost entirely. Now, however, I see that once again it was Larsson, not me, who knew what he was doing. Salander is so wildly eccentric that without a bridge to the “sane” world, she would be impotent, isolated, alone. Blomkvist and a couple of others provide that bridge, act as foils that give her antics and principles a way to achieve valid expression in normal society. Again, masterful. A shame for Larsson (or anyone) to go so young, but he certainly left a legacy more memorable than most of us have or will.