Fighting with the Sky

The Girl Who Played With Fire

Posted on: June 29, 2010

I have recently started reading the Millennium series by Stieg Larsson.  I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo probably about a week and a half ago now and became absolutely enthralled by it.  And now I’ve finished the second in the series, The Girl Who Played With Fire.  I can’t wait to see how the trilogy ends in The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.  I was really impressed with the second book of this series…for a number of reasons.

Warning: minor spoilers for the first two books of the series (and please don’t leave spoilers for the third in the comments).  I will not reveal any of the major revelations of the books, but I will discuss some of the aspects of the plot and character development.

When I first started The Girl Who Played With Fire I wasn’t sure how I felt about the character developments of Lisbeth Salander, the female protagonist (I don’t know if ‘protagonist’ is the right word for Salander).  In The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Salander came across as this incredibly brilliant, yet socially awkward woman, who didn’t take crap from anyone.  At the beginning of Fire, we learn that Salander used a (small) portion of the money that she obtained in Dragon Tattoo to get a boob job.  She spends the first 100 (or more, can’t remember) pages or so being self-conscious about not only her new breasts but her small body as well.  I don’t know if this was some sort of development to make her more relate-able because, yes, everyone has body image issues.  But all I saw was Salander going from this kick-ass woman to this whiny girl.  I didn’t really care for it.  Once we got past that part of the book, the “old” Salander seemed to come back with all her computer hacking and investigative glory.  As she is described at some points throughout the book, Salander is a woman who hates men who hate women (a play on the Swedish title of Dragon TattooThe Men Who Hate Women).

While it did take a while a long while for the murders of this murder mystery to happen (about 200 pages or so), which we knew were going to happen based on reading the back of the book, I did find the lead up to the murders interesting (even though I was frustrated that they hadn’t happened yet — is it a bad sign when you are asking yourself when murders are finally going to happen, even if it is in a book?).  The lead up to the murders dealt a lot with an expose of the sex trafficking industry in Sweden.  I thought it was a very interesting approach in that it’s something that most people generally don’t want to think about (on a whole, even though it’s a really important issue).  And I liked that they did focus on the victims of the sex trafficking industry, but they also looked at the financials of it and what pimps and johns gained from it.

I also thought that Fire provided an interesting look at mental illness.  Salander was in and out of mental institutions in her teens and was uncooperative with authorities, so she had numerous reports of something being “wrong” with her, that she was unstable, and that she was a psychopath with violent tendencies (which, yes, she does tend to have violent tendencies, but only when provoked).  During the police investigation into Salander, all they had access to were these reports, so they drew a picture of her being this crazy killer woman.  It didn’t help that she didn’t have that many friends.  But all of the people that they interviewed about her gave a completely different account of what she was actually like.  Despite the interviews from her friends, the police were insistent for a good part that Salander was responsible for the murders because she has a history of mental illness and violence.

It was interesting to see this story line play out.  As an audience, we have know that Salander had been in a mental hospital and that she was declared incompetent.  But we also saw her as being able to handle herself, as a genius, albeit, socially awkward.  We were just meant to believe that Salander had fallen to some bad situations that ended with her being in a mental institution (which doesn’t necessarily mean she has a mental illness — but there is talk in this book about the possibility of her having Asperger’s, but she has never been officially diagnosed).  But in Fire, we see the character of Salander that we have grown accustomed to challenged by her medical reports and the police being insistent that there is something “wrong” with her.  It also says a lot about the difference between reading reports of people (which are made through other people’s perceptions and biases — which plays a large role in Salander’s case) and actually getting to know the person, whether talking to them yourself or talking to the people that know her well (in the case of the book).

Overall, I thought that this was a great book.  I can’t decide if I liked Fire better or Dragon Tattoo, because they have significantly different story lines despite having the same characters.  In Fire, Salander and Blomkvist (the main characters) are never together except for the last page, so you don’t get too much of the interaction between them that you got in the first.  And the investigations in each book are significantly different in nature — both murder investigations, but under completely different circumstances.

I will make a note at the end here though, that there are some major trigger warnings for both books.  There are graphic descriptions of rape, violent scenes, domestic violence, and sex trafficking throughout both books.  I thought that Dragon Tattoo was a little more graphic in its descriptions, but there are still some major trigger warnings for Fire.

That being said, I would highly recommend this trilogy to anyone, just be aware of these trigger warnings as I was not when I first started reading Dragon Tattoo.

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3 Responses to "The Girl Who Played With Fire"

Great review! I LOVE these books, have you seen the films? I think what makes them singularly unique is that here we have a so-called “damaged” protagonist who is bright, smart, capable, and kick-ass. Salander is a new kind of heroine and one desperately needed. Thanks for the trigger warning, I went into the first film without knowing what I was going to be seeing and I was pretty disturbed.

hi
just wanted to add my two cents on Stieg Larssons legacy
while definitely riveting (i read the first book, then watched the movie), i thought both versions way too needlessly pornographic (emotionally and visually) and far-fetched. Stieg Larssons legacy has the admittedly “incredibly brilliant, yet socially awkward” titular heroine yeah but take her out of it and, while engaging, the rest is pure wait-for-the (absurd)-twist suspense found in Da Vinci Code &c, &c yadda yadda..

Hey – good to read someone else’s thoughts on these books. I’ve also reviewed them if you’re interested on my book blog http://copywritersbookshelf.blogspot.com/

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