The Girl Who Played With Fire

Today’s Book review will be the second part of the Steig Larsson trilogy, The Girl Who Played With Fire

Before I get to the review I just want to say hello to all our new readers and welcome! We are very excited to have you along on our reading journey. After J’s review of  Carr’s book we got a lot of thoughtful feedback, and we really appreciate it. There is one thing I want to address–a  lot of people mused on the issue of how one can get children to engage with books when they have so many other distractions in the world. I can tell you from experience, that kids won’t read if their parents don’t set the example for them. I grew up with a mother who loved to read. Reading is what she did in her spare time. Although I grew up in the pre-internet age, we did, of course, have a TV and there were other distractions around like Nintendo (Duck Hunt anyone?). My parents never forbade these sorts of things, but by example they made it clear that it was better to read. I received books as gifts, books for good grades, books all the time- and because of their encouragement I loved to read. So if you want to help a young person love books you have to walk the walk, so to speak.

Okay onto my review. Larsson’s second book is difficult to review because you cannot sum up the plot. It is too complicated, plus that would spoil the fun of the book. The Lis Salander trilogy is extraordinarily popular, and much has been written about it by loftier critics than I, so I have decided that I will only address a few themes of the book in this review and then deal with the rest with my review of the third book of the trilogy (which I am reading right now.)

First of all, Larsson’s Sweden is not an Ikea-furnished utopia. It is a dark and dangerous world, and while this outlook was probably born from Larsson’s own perception of his home country it is  something I find intriguing. His descriptions of places in the book are spare, and in your mind’s eye you cannot help envisioning a cold, grey, place, thick with intrigue. I am sure this is intentional–it is also what helps with the pace and atmosphere in the book. Everything is urgent, interconnected, a web– and nothing, chief of all the main character, is as it seems.

Ah the title character, Lisbeth Salander– she’s one of the more original characters to come out of fiction in a long time. I actually plan to dedicate much of my next blog post on Lisbeth, because I just cannot shake her from my mind. But anyway, Lisbeth is a woman, who in Larsson’s words ” hates men who hate women.” And I think that  statement is one of the keys to Larsson’s main themes. In the world of this book, and perhaps in Larsson’s mind, many men hate women, and treat them despicably. The issues of abuse, rape and sex trafficking come up in this book (and in the other books in the trilogy) time and time again. Clearly, Larsson believes that many men  hold misogynistic ideas about women. While Larsson’s books are extreme in one aspect, they aren’t in another. The fact of it is that around 1/4 of all women in the US have been sexually assaulted. Think about that number. One in four. That means you likely know someone who has. And many of the assaults (both sexual and physical) are at the hands of men that they know-boyfriends, lovers, husbands, family members. Sorry to be such a downer, but one truth from these books is that women often do suffer at the hands of men– and especially at the hands of men who were supposed to protect and love them (as does the protagonist Lisbeth Salander.)

Sorry to be a Debbie Downer, but I do think that is the main message of Larsson’s book. That we live in a world that is dangerous, especially if you are a woman, and I do think that in some aspect he is true. It is correct to say that women’s lives have become markedly better, that women have come to achieve so much in the recent decades, but I also think that it is no mistake that Larsson’s books are set in Sweden, which is not only his home country, but a country that is regarded as having the most equality of the sexes. I think that Larsson is taking a swipe at this vision of Sweden with his books.

As to the book itself, it is fast-paced, violent, and intriguing. The heroine, Lisbeth Salander is both infuriating and brilliant. When you read this book you really cannot put it down, so consider yourself warned–you need to make sure you have plenty of time to read it, or you will risk a “reading hangover” like I did, furiously reading at the wee hours to finish and only have a few hours to sleep before you wake up and go to work. I think that everyone will react differently to these books, but there is a reason why they are bestsellers.

Ciao for now,

Bookish C