Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Girl Who Read the Books (And Couldn't Put Them Down)

I just finished the last book in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Girl Who Played With Fire,” and “The Girl Who kicked the Hornet’s Nest.”

After seeing the movie version of the first book, and hearing about the sensation that this series has created all over the world, I eagerly devoured the second book. I then saw the movie based on it, “The Girl Who Played With Fire.” Although usually I feel like the book is better, in this case I’m glad I was exposed initially to these characters in the first movie. Noomi Rapace is the perfect Lisbeth Salander: slight, butch, intense and capable of both vacant stares and ferocious Kung Fu fighting.

Salander is one of the most compelling characters ever introduced in a story, an emotionally wounded genius researcher/computer hacker who will survive at all costs. A little off-kilter and woefully clueless with relationships, she distrusts everyone because her experience has taught her to depend on no one; ultimately everyone else will let her down.

I like her imperfection, and even her more brutal actions have logical reasons; she does not lash out maliciously, but in defense or for vengeance. It is interesting to view her confusion when she has to decide to let a handful of people try to help her expose the life-long injustice she was the unwitting pawn of by some shadowy government espionage types.

People in authority are portrayed here in a variety of ways, most as mindless or selfish bureaucrats and worse, manipulators of the law and system toward their own ends. It’s no surprise as both Larsson and Blomkvist are anti-government watchdogs with a nose for corruption and social inequity.

But there are few good men (and women) on the police forces, well-drawn characters who go against protocol and orders to uphold a citizen’s rights. In fact, the Swedish view of democracy, social responsibility and civil rights is a very important theme throughout the series.

The writing is at times like a reporter’s account, terse, factual and to the point, which is appropriate because Mikael Blomkvist’s character is a thorough investigative journalist (which is why I’m fact-checking the spelling of these names!) Parts of the story are presented so matter-of-factly that you have to read them twice to make sure to absorb their emotional or visceral content, particularly the violent scenes.

I didn’t want to finish the last book, “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” because even though I was dying to find out how things resolved, it was bittersweet: the author passed away shortly after delivering the three book series to his publisher and so there will be no sequels.

Or will there?

Apparently Larsson left about three quarters of a fourth novel on a notebook computer in his companion’s possession. Synopses or manuscripts of the fifth and sixth in the series, which was intended to contain an eventual total of ten books, may also exist. I for one hope there is a way to enjoy more of Salander’s life story.

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