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Friday, March 5, 2010

The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson

It's difficult to write a review of The Girl Who Played with Fire without sounding like some dramatic, amped-up voiceover for an action flick. Many cliches come to mind when thinking about the book but none of them do it any sort of justice. This is a very visceral work that grabs the reader from page one and doesn't even let go at the book's conclusion. In fact, that conclusion is guaranteed to provoke a response of, "That's the end?", leaving the reader to wish that the third installment was instantly available.

Larsson's first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, dealt with the world of corporate greed and introduced us to the character of Lisbeth Salander. That book was cagey with the details of her life but The Girl Who Played with Fire fills in all those holes. I wouldn't dream of spoiling the book for someone who hasn't yet read it so suffice it to say that the details are shocking and provide a very in-depth understanding of what has driven Salander over the years. She is one of the most unique characters in contemporary literature. Larsson handles her with great deftness and the reasons behind her special brand of morality become very understandable as the novel progresses. The reader can't help but sympathize and empathize with Lisbeth--which she probably would hate.

Though this book deals with an outwardly more misogynist topic--sex trafficking--the theme of misogyny is carried over from the first book and this is where Larsson is at his best. Modern society would like to think that times have changed and though Larsson's novel is a work of fiction, it serves to reflect how pervasive misogyny is in today's world. His novel is something of an expose of the prevalence of violence against women and a statement of how deeply sexism is ingrained into the world's cultures, even those in which the rights of the sexes are ostensibly equal. Fighting against this is Salander's particular crusade, one that threatens to consume her very being.

And yet sexism is only one part of the equation. The book also carries a strong theme of prejudice against homosexuals. While the events of both novels revolve around murder mysteries they are, at heart, novels about racism and prejudice in its various forms. Larsson vividly illustrates how prejudice affects not only the treatment of those subject to it, but how that prejudice affects the justice they receive. No one is safe from this criticism as Larsson's novels take on the justice system, the press, and everyday people. There is an important statement here about how racism and prejudice lead to the pollution of society from within.

The pacing of the novel is beautiful and the new characters are fascinating. Though the first novel in the series was very well-written and engrossing, this novel is even better. The subject matter is arguably more explosive and the events in the lives of the characters take on an even greater urgency than they did in the first. Larsson's novels aren't so much mystery novels as they are platforms for exploring the darker side of human nature and human nature doesn't get much darker than in The Girl Who Played with Fire. Rarely does a novel live up to all the hype surrounding it but this one deserves every one of the raves it receives and then some.

1 comment:

  1. Highly recommended for Larsson fans and for anyone else who enjoys tales of neglected children, alternative cultures, and persistent journalists.

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