The Girl Who Played With Fire by Steig Larsson

Over a year after reading The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson finally suckered me into continuing his series – or at least getting through the second book. This is mostly due to the fact that I saw the movie version of The Girl Who Played With Fire and got the sense that there was a lot that got cut out, so I read this to see what parts they skipped over in the movie.

First off, a quick note on the movie vs. the book: the book is structured differently from the movie, and goes into greater depth about nearly everything (this is sometimes a good thing, and sometimes a very, very bad thing). Entire characters and subplots are omitted, but the bare bones of the story is still intact. So I’d recommend the movie, but with the addition that you should read the book if you want to fully understand everything that goes on.

Anyway, on to the book. It’s been a while since I’ve done a review in my “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” style (PATENT PENDING), so here we go.

The Good: Lisbeth Salander is still awesome, and always will be. Especially interesting is the transformation she goes through in this book, where she stops dressing like a teenager, removes one of her tattoos and most of her piercings, buys an apartment, shops for furniture, has a somewhat stable relationship…essentially, we get to see Lisbeth becoming a grownup. But rest assured – her awesome is in no way diminished by her newfound domesticity. She still fucks everyone’s shit up on a daily basis, and a disinterested sneer is still her expression of choice.

Additionally, the story itself is really interesting, not in the least because we get a detailed look at Lisbeth’s background and how she became who she is. Blomkvist’s detective work is still fascinating to watch, although I was less thrilled to learn the details of the continuing saga entitled Mikael Blomkvist Sleeps With Everyone. (I mean, Jesus, Micke – Harriet Vanger? Dude. DUDE.)

The Bad: I don’t really know what went on in the editing process for this book, or if there was any. The only explanation I can come up with is that Stieg Larsson’s editors, out of respect for the recently-deceased author, decided that it would be a fitting tribute to send his books out exactly as they were in the original drafts. That has to be it, because there’s no other excuse for the staggering amount of pointless details we’re subjected to in this book. I thought it was bad in the first book. I had no idea. Not only do we have to wade through pages and pages of the bullshit office drama plaguing the Stockholm police department and hear about every damn detail of Blomkvist’s sexual exploits, but we also, in true Larsson form, hear about what every character wears every day, what kind of computer they use (always wanted to know how much RAM Lisbeth’s computer has? You’re in luck!), what model of car they drive, and what they eat for every. goddamn. meal. When Lisbeth buys her apartment and has to furnish it, she naturally goes to IKEA (that’s the only store they have in Sweden, right? Besides 7-Elevens, which are aparently everywhere and a great place for an affluent businessman to have lunch). The description of her shopping trip, where we are given an inventoried list of everything she buys, lasts TWO WHOLE PAGES.

*facedesk* You’re killing me, Larsson.

The Ugly: Stieg Larsson, as far as I can tell, wrote these books mainly as a social statement about misogyny and sexism and how women are abused and mistreated by The System. He’s not just aiming to write a series of exciting detective stories, he wants to open his readers’ eyes to the very real problems of sexual abuse that women go through every day. For taking on this task, I applaud him.

But he might be a total hypocrite. Stick with me, and I’ll explain.

Early in the book, we spend a (way too long and essentially pointless) few chapters learning about what Lisbeth is doing during her vacation in Grenanda. Basically she spends her time spying on a guy who’s beating his wife, sleeping with a sixteen-year-old, and reading about math.

…hang on, what was that middle one? Ah yes. During her vacation, Lisbeth seduces and then starts a relationship with a sixteen-year-old boy. This is not as creepy as it could be (it’s completely consensual, there’s never any doubt about that), but it’s still pretty icky. I don’t care that Lisbeth looks like a teenager, she isn’t. She’s a twenty-four-year old woman having sex with an actual teenager. I don’t know, maybe the laws are different is Sweden*, but in the United States it doesn’t matter how consensual the relationship is, it’s still called statutory rape. Lisbeth, you are a math genius, right? Well, I have an equation for you to solve: your age, divided by two, plus seven. THAT is the officially recognized age before a relationship gets creepy, and you have failed it.

I think I would have less of a problem with this relationship if Larsson and his characters didn’t spend every moment of his books shouting at us, “Sexually abusing women is the worst crime a person can commit! If you rape someone, Lisbeth Salander will come after you and ruin your life because raping a woman is WRONG.” I agree, but what Larsson is forgetting is that men can be sexually abused, too. What Lisbeth is doing is taking sexual advantage of a minor, and she never even takes a moment to wonder if maybe this is wrong. Larsson got so caught up in making a statement about men who hate women that he completely forgot that his herione commits a similar crime. And that’s not okay.

This was an interesting book, and I liked learning about Lisbeth’s past, but I think I’m done. Thank you for your time, Miss Salander. It’s been real.

Verdict: three out of five stars

*after this review was originally posted on Goodreads.com, a commenter informed me that the age of consent in Sweden is fifteen. This makes Lisbeth’s relationship with the teenager legal (at least in her eyes), but I still find the idea of a twenty-four-year-old sleeping with a sixteen-year-old creepy as fuck.

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