This is my review of The Girl Who Played with Fire (Millennium Trilogy Book 2) by Stieg Larsson.
The opening chapters diverted me from the tedium of sitting on an airport runway for three hours waiting in vain for the plane to obtain a slot to fly round a cloud of volcanic dust. The complex plot wound its way to a suitably shocking and unpredictable ending, and although I do not share the widespread admiration for the “spiky and sassy” anti-heroine Lisbeth Salander, I was left with sufficient curiosity as to her fate to feel motivated to tackle the final part of the trilogy in the next few weeks.
So, with these positive initial reflections, what were the reservations which made me wonder at several points whether this much-hyped book was really worth reading? It certainly needs a thorough edit, with a few passages which I swear do not make sense, and a tendency to read at some points like research notes for the novel rather than the final work itself. I have no objection to a large cast of characters, but the tendency to switch from the viewpoint of one to the next makes for jerky reading, and I would have liked a brief list of names and roles for quick reference where the unfamiliar Swedish names/personalities/roles of bit part players were rather similar. Also, some characters seemed to “drift out of the frame” after what seemed to be unduly lengthy introductions.
My main beef is that the book is frankly badly written at many points, although to be fair to the author I wonder to what extent this is due to a translator with a cloth ear for language. The large number of short scenes, conveying the impression that the structure was created with filming in mind, suggest that quality of writing was never a major consideration.
By the standards of popular pulp fiction, this probably deserves the high praise it has received in Amazon reviews so far. Perhaps I was misled into thinking this trilogy is more of a “work of literature” than it is by the first part, which seemed to have a strong mission to expose corruption, and conveyed a sense of the tensions in Swedish society and a rounded central character in the journalist Kalle Blomkvist. In this section, the (for me) slightly ludicrous aspects of Salander’s extraordinary gifts for computer hacking and manipulating unlikely victims play a much larger part. Together with the increased level of sadistic violence in the book, it held less appeal for me.
Whereas the first part involved working out the riddle behind a series of murders, this second part was a little disappointing in that revelations towards the end came in the form of explanations from key characters or summarising from a report.
However, I am clearly in a minority……