Friday, November 16, 2012
100 Books #108 - Stieg Larsson's THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET'S NEST
I think it's safe to say that the Sweden of Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy is very fortunate indeed that big-time villain Alexander Zalachenko was a Male Chauvinist Pig. Had he encouraged his daughter, Lisbeth Salander, badass superheroine of the trilogy, in the development of her talents, had he cultivated her loyalties, the way he did his giant literally-feel-no-pain freakshow son, Niedermann, well, I'm just not sure this ficitonal Sweden could have survived it.
The only thing harder to deal with than Salander (and Team Salander) refusing to be a victim even after she's been shot in the hip, shoulder and oh yes head would be Salander helping daddy run his epic crime organization.
The action* in The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest takes place immediately after the closing battle in The Girl Who Played with Fire, in which Lisbeth was not only shot as described above, not only left for dead but buried in a shallow grave -- and yet still managed to dig herself out and nearly succeed in offing Dear Old Dad. Again. As this third and, alas, final book (I'm told there were originally going to be ten of these, but for the author's unfortunate demise) opens, she and Daddy are rushed to the same intensive care ward, where doctors heroically save both of their lives so they can continue plotting to destroy each other.
Except now the police and the court system and the press are more involved in their family problems than ever before. And the buck doesn't stop there. Oh no. Because all the conspiracy pigeons are coming home to roost. And most of them are armed. Or have AUTHORITAH.
Unfortunately, I'm making this sound more exciting than the book actually is. There has been a plodding element to the other two books in the series -- we get a lot of minutiae mixed in with the excitement and adventure and really wild bad things -- but in this book, there's a lot more of that. We watch characters get dressed and plod around their kitchens making coffee and driving or walking up and down streets in way too much detail, way too often.
And perhaps that's always been the case in these books and I just noticed it more this time around because all that minutiae is padding out... courtroom drama (and a slow-motion courtroom drama that takes more than half the book to even get to the courtroom at that). Law & Order: Sweden. Which means with politicians. Who spend a lot of the time wringing their hands over the finer points of Swedish constitutional law. And drinking coffee.
Don't get me wrong, there's still plenty of nifty cloak and dagger stuff, and when there is tension, it's very tense indeed, and involves some characters who, let's admit it, have kind of just been window dressing up till now (like Erika Berger, who, had this series progressed, could have wound up being a sort of attenuated Robin to Salander's Batman** except, of course, Robin would be older than Batman. And they'd both be female. But hell, wouldn't you want to read that? I would!!!). And added to the mix this time around are not just one but two new badass ex-policewomen, one working in the very government agency that's at the heart of the Salander/Zalachenko conspiracy, one working for the private security firm for whom Salander got her start in the earning money for being smart business.
And so yes, this means that all of the feminist issues that have been at the heart of this series from the beginning are still at the forefront; these stories aren't just crime stories, but stories about crimes against women, at all levels of society, in pretty much every way crimes can be perpetrated on women. Salander is our heroine of record, but really, any of the ladies who don't just get killed off in these novels could take a spotlight, too, I think. Not a whining victim among them; at their worst they are targets who come alive and shoot back. And if they happen to see a fella (or dame) they fancy, they make it happen, and the fancied one had better just get with the program (fortunately, all of them are glad to do so. Though really, I can't see any of these women, badass as they are, acting unethically in this regard. They know too well what it's like to be on the other end of that kind of attention).
This means I forgive them much, but still find this third novel the weakest of them. I'm not much of a legal thriller fan to begin with, and here I was being led through the ins and outs of a country and a government very different from my own. I don't mind learning about that, might even find it intriguing, but if I'm to be asked to do so to understand a piece of fiction, I want a bit more story than I got this time around. Or at least a bit more Girl; as I observed on Goodreads about halfway through reading this one, a better title for this last installment of the Milennium trilogy would be The People Who Talked About the Girl Who Did Stuff in Other Novels.
I got sick of Blomkvist, improbable chick magnet-cum-authorial wish-fulfilling stand-in, somewhere in the middle of the second book, to be honest, but here he is again like a bad, if very earnest and hardworking penny, stepping up his game to try to be a match for Salander (he does have some nifty, crafty ideas; he must have finally remembered that class he took in cunning from that fox at Oxford), but still ultimately depending on Salander to get to the bottom of things so he has facts to expose in his magazine. Even though she's in a hospital room recovering from all the gunshots and technically under arrest. But you know, he's the sidekick. It's what they do. And at least he doesn't complain about it, or try to be macho or dominating. He is protective, but in a motherly and behind-the-scenes way. There, putting it that way, I don't mind him as much. He can be Alfred. Why not.
Even so, while I read the first two books in the series at breakneck paces, barely stopping to sleep, this one, well, it's another one I kept putting aside for fun and shiny things, and finally finished out of a sense of duty, and possibly out of enslavement to the good old sunk cost fallacy. I was already in for two books and then some, better hang in there...
I'll still have a look at the film, though, because the other two films (I'm talking about the Swedish ones, here; I still haven't been able to bring myself to look at the American one) were cracking good adaptations of their books, and so I have hopes that the film of this one will be a leaner and livelier look at this story, too.
And Noomi Rapace was born for the role.
And I need to see her playing a smart person again to get the last taste of Prometheus out of my mouth.
*What actual action there is, I mean.
**Well, okay, that's a stretch, especially since there are other, more badass candidates for this theoretical female Robin in the story. What I'm trying to say is, Erika impressed me a little this time.