I have a particular habit which many people find, well, offputting. I carry a small but distinctly solid hammer in my purse, which comes everywhere with me. I could go through my whole rationale to prove that that doesn’t make me a crazy person– after all, who wants to mug the psycho bitch with the hand tools? –but really, all that is relevant here is that the practice was inspired by a heroine who is very uniquely herself and like no other character I have ever had the pleasure of reading: Lisbeth Salander.
I have been waiting to write this post for a long time.
I am by no means alone in praising the Millenium Trilogy; indeed, the late Steig Larsson has gained international acclaim for his series, which is completed by the newly released The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. His story is famous: shortly before his unexpected death at the age of 50 due to a massive heart attack, Larsson turned in three complete manuscripts which he never saw published. Unfortunately for the world, he didn’t live to finish the other books in the series, of which there were to be an eventual ten. He left behind three quarters of a completed fourth volume, and synopses of fifth and sixth books may also exist. As of this May, the Millenium Trilogy has sold a total of some 27 million copies worldwide.
I could go on about how Larsson’s work highlights and condemns a broad spectrum of anti-feminist thought (in its original Swedish release, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was titled Män som hatar kvinnor, or Men Who Hate Women). I could talk about how great it is to see a guy writing about a strong female character who isn’t grossly oversexualized and doesn’t turn into a ninny at the crucial moment and need saving. It’d be true; I do admire Larsson for that. But what I really want to gush about is Lisbeth Salander. Salander Salander Salander. When asked by a friend how I liked The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, my only complaint was that it didn’t have enough Salander; that one focused mainly on Mikael Blomkvist. This unfortunate condition was remedied in the second volume, The Girl Who Played With Fire. Don’t get me wrong– I like Blomkvist just fine, but Lisbeth has always been the heart and soul of the series. She’s smart and practical, both to alarming degrees sometimes. She’s been hurt in the past and seems like she might be vulnerable, but isn’t really. She’s great with a half-brick or a hammer. I couldn’t say what it is that makes this spiny, antisocial young woman so utterly lovable for her many ardent fans, but you’ve never seen anything like her.
You can sort of tell that it’s around one in the morning here, because I haven’t even started in on the specific book I’m reviewing yet. My apologies for the rambling, and if I read this tomorrow and it’s incoherent, I’ll be sure to edit it. I’ll talk about Hornet’s Nest now. When the book begins (without spoiling too much here) Salander lies in the hospital with a bullet in her brain, while outside the Swedish police wait impatiently to arrest her on several counts, which include murder. The media has been having a circus with those charges and her eccentricity– the words “lesbian Satanist” get bandied around a lot. It seems like the only people convinced of Salander’s innocence are her friend Blomkvist and his circle. What’s more, the whole affair is somehow connected to Salander’s father, a man who is cloaked in the shadows of government conspiracy– the man who put Salander in the hospital, and who now lies two doors down from her with Lisbeth-induced axe wounds to the head. It’s a not-so-classic case of Girl Against the World as Salander, cut off from the outside world as she recovers, must find a way to prove her own innocence and untangle the web of lies which surrounds her entire life.
It sounds cheap, but Larsson managed to handle the high stakes masterfully and with a sense of realism that no doubt came from his many years spent as a journalist. The tales of corruption in this book are on a scale to rival the most ridiculous conspiracy theories* but are handled so well that they make you forget that the story is fiction. He also manages to keep track of what seems like dozens of characters, all with important roles, and draw them together for an amazing finish. And his crisp, reporterly prose strikes a great balance between clarity and impact. My only difficulty was in keeping track of all the Swedish names, but that’s not Larsson’s fault, it’s the fault of centuries of linguistic evolution, and possibly the Nordic people in general. We forgive them.
This is the single greatest non-fantasy/sci-fi reading experience I have ever had. I would be hard pressed to say where they ranked when you do include my favorite genre in the running, but it’d be in the top ten. I’m sure as soon as it sinks in that Larsson is actually dead and that I will never read another book about Lisbeth Salander, I’ll mourn harder than I ever did for Harry Potter. We might have to make a holiday for this guy. Seriously.
A salute, then, to Steig Larsson, who saw fit to grace us with his genius before he left. Tu es vir.
*Well, except for that one the guy who accosted me at Half-Price books once was spouting. Apparently the American Revolution actually failed and since then Britain has ruled us in secret through our economy. The Civil War was faked to help with the cover-up.