Millennium Trilogy 2 & 3

The Girl Who Played with Fire (Flickan som lekte med elden)
Book #18
written by: Stieg Larsson
released in: 2006
original language: Swedish
length: 569 pages
finished reading on: 22 August
Film #26
directed by: Daniel Alfredson
released in: 2009
language: Swedish
length: 124 minutes
watched on: 23 August
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest (Luftslottet som sprängdes)
Book #19
written by: Stieg Larsson
released in: 2007
original language: Swedish
length: 743 pages
finished reading on: 6 September
Film #28
directed by: Daniel Alfredson
released in: 2009
language: Swedish
length: 140 minutes
watched on: 12 September

Millennium is the second long trilogy I’ve managed to eat my way through this year (the first was the Red Mars trilogy)… these are incredibly engrossing books. I’m reviewing these two books (and their corresponding films) together mainly because they fit together as a coherent tale, while the first book stood very much alone.

The tale gets a lot more involved specifically with our heroine Lisbeth Salander than the first book (the first book concentrated a lot more than these did on the male protagonist Mikael Blomkvist, who is pretty much based directly on the author himself), and aspects of her past and private lives. It opens, first of all, with a creepy fragment of what we can only assume is paedophilic sexual abuse, upon a victim that is probably Salander – its context will be returned to later in the book. Then it goes into a slightly surreal sequence where Salander is trapped in a hurricane in Grenada, of all places; she falls in love with a teenage boy and carries out a bit of vigilantism against a man she hears abusing his wife. The entire sequence, which was simply cut out of the film, doesn’t really do much to further the plot; it seems to serve the purpose of developing her character, but not much more than that. It’s somewhat symptomatic of Larsson’s writing: while generally good, it’s very bulky and padded, and could do with a bit of ruthless editing to cut out the parts that aren’t needed. I think it could have easily cut this section out and got the ball rolling a lot quicker than it did.

The plot of the second book is great: we get a mystery hook early on in the book, and implicate a major character in a crime, and this basically draws out the plot of the rest of the book, and the whole of the third one, as things are later brought to trial. The ancilliary mysteries about Salander’s past life then open up, and we’re led on a hunt for an enigmatic man named Zala, and get to see people kicking ass.

It wasn’t so obvious, however, where the third book was headed. The plot was mainly drawn out surrounding a court case, and there were whole pages that I felt like skipping because they were talking about Swedish constitutional law and parts of modern Swedish political history that I’m simply not familiar with – unlike the other books, the volume of such insider information gets so great that the translators actually included a glossary of names at the back of the book. Like the first two books, it gets going eventually, as we discover a conspiracy, hinted about in the second book, and a B-plot where the character of Erika Berger is harrassed and stalked.

It can’t have been that bad, though, because the third book was significantly longer than the second, and I finished it in about half the time. I think this may have simply been because I was already in my stride by that point.

There are a couple of general points I do quite want to bring out. The first point actually applies to all three books, and I forgot to mention it for the first book in my previous review. Basically, Larsson has a habit of inserting real things, and real brands, and occasionally real people, into his work. I just have to say I find this strange. It sort of lends credence to the work, reminding you that it’s set in the real world, but then you worry that he’s been paid by these brands to put them in his book, which I doubt (of course, that probably is true in the case of the films!).

But the other thing it does, and I’m reminded of when Hergé put Tintin in brown jeans when he wrote Tintin and the Picaros in the 1970s, is to date the work terribly. When you have a named brand, you get a certain level of technology. Salander loves to use her state-of-the-art Powerbook, but as any Apple afficionado will tell you, the latest model is the Macbook, and Powerbooks are hopelessly out-of-date. Books can’t keep up with technology, essentially. The film updates some of the technology and makes it up-to-date and simpler, sometimes. A very complicated subplot in the book where Blomkvist wants to get a hospital-ridden Salander communicating with him online – involving a smuggled Palm handheld computer, a mobile phone to connect it to the internet and about five different accomplices – could be simplified in the film to one accomplice, the doctor who comes and secretly hands Salander a Blackberry (I have to say, I found it a bit comedic).

There’s also a weird part where he writes the apparently not fictional at all boxer Paulo Roberto into the second book. Roberto even comes and plays himself in the film. It’s kind of mystifying to me why Larsson did this… I have read that he essentially wrote for pleasure and didn’t necessarily plan to have his books published, so it’s maybe simply that he couldn’t be bothered thinking up a fictional boxer, as one would normally do in such circumstances.

My second point that I wanted to muse on for a few seconds was that Blomkvist and Salander hardly speak at all during these books. She’s all in a huff with him because of some trumped-up reason, and they end up only communicating via online methods, where they’re just snarky with each other, and actually meeting, in both books, only right at the end. I can kind of understand it a bit better for the second book, but the interaction between the two characters was one of the best parts about the first book, I felt, and I was sort of expecting, via some sort of narrative causality, that they would actually spend time together during the third book.

The last point is that in exactly the same way as the first book, the third book seems to wrap up all of its plot points almost as an afterthought, and it suffers somewhat from ending fatigue. In particular, there was one important character, Niedermann, whose story Larsson really must have forgotten to sort out, because he only returns in an epilogue.

As for the films, they’re cool. I still think Noomi Rapace is utterly brilliant as Salander. But they’re a little bit short, and the third one, especially, really has to get out the hedge trimmers, and all that’s left is pretty much the bare minimum – and yet even then there are some confusing changes to bits of the plot, such as Niedermann tracking Salander to her hospital and becoming the big bad of the film (his story is more effectively interspersed in the film, rather than showing up only at the end as an afterthought, as I mentioned). Evidently, an extended edition of each was also shown on Swedish TV as a miniseries, although even then it’s not exactly long enough to fit everything in. But, as with the first book, I definitely enjoyed the enhanced experience of watching it straight after reading the book, because that way I can remember more effectively what’s been missed out and what hasn’t.

Anyway, overall, I’d say I enjoyed the second book more than the third, but both were equally engrossing. If they suffer any problems, they’re probably also present in the first book, or I’ve outlined them here. I’d definitely recommend them.

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