Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson

Knowing something of Stieg Larsson's life and having digested the characters and themes in the first book ("M1"), one becomes so alert to art imitating life in M2. It is almost as if Larsson is using the Millennium trilogy to play a complex game of Second Life. In the first book, we see so many instances of his characters reading crime novels by famous authors, especially Astrid Lindgren (of Pippi Longstocking fame). In fact, he wants them to be well read. When Lisbeth Salander receives her mother's modest inheritance, she makes an anonymous contribution to Stockholm's crisis centres for women (p. 104). Larsson imbues his characters with his own personal tastes. At one point (p. 234), he has Blomkvist listening to Debbie Harry singing Maria, great choice !

Anonymity is a central theme - LS goes out of her way to maintain her old apartment as a decoy address for mail collection, and installs her friend Mimmi there as caretaker. "The address on Lundagatan was on every public register and database, and in all those years she had never had the means to improve her security; she could only stay on her guard. Now the situation was different. She did not want anyone to know her new address in Mosebacke." (p. 102). We later learn (p. 461) that her 25 million-kronor ($3.7 million) pied-à-terre was owned by Percy Barnevik, who many readers will know was former CEO of Asea Brown Boveri ("ABB") (1988-1996), and is ignominiously remembered as benefitting from a huge golden parachute pension payout (148 million Swiss francs) upon retirement.

Consider that in real life, Larsson never married his girlfriend, Eva Gabrielsson, because Swedish law would require them to provide a residential address. The fact that they never married is the source of the posthumous acrimonious legal wrangling that Eva is embroiled with Larsson's brother and father (I'm guessing Martin and Gottfried Vangar come to mind) regarding ownership of his books, including the text for an unreleased M4 that resides on her computer. No Will was ever executed. Fans have formed a web site to assist Eva with the legal costs,

As mentioned in the post for M1, this book is really all about 26-year old Lisbeth. At one point we learn Blomkvist has nicknamed her Sally (p. 163), hence the naming of the fan-site As the reader makes headway through the book, more and more layers of Salander's history are revealed with the shocker coming in the last few pages. We even learn that her chosen surname is influenced by deep dark secrets in her past. Her superhero femme fatale persona reminds one of the heroine in the 1990 Luc Besson film La Femme Nikita. Pursuing this line of thought, femmes fatale often carry out very asymmetric relations with their male counterparts, so true of her relation with Blomkvist.

At the outset, Lisbeth is found enjoying her new-found funds in Grenada, listening to the magical sounds of a steel band, thinking "the barrel could make music like nothing else in the world" (p. 10). Good start. Numerous references speak to a dark adolescence, which she calls "All The Evil." We will not find out what that evil was until the end is near (p. 438). One theme that looms large in M2 is the role of the Government in covering up clandestine activity, specifically the Swedish Security Police or Säpo. Without giving away the story, a certain Russian spy who defected to Sweden and was granted political asylum plays a larger and larger role as book M2 morphs to book M3.

The final 100 pages is fast and furious, the reader always clueless as to how Salander will extricate herself from trouble. We learn that the book's title relates to a certain Molotov cocktail, but I must avoid spoiler hints. The cliffhanger manner in which the book ends is Stieg Larsson's way of saying "I just dare you not to buy book 3 !!" Pity the poor readers who read M2 when it was first published in the U.S. as they had to wait interminably for M3 to publish domestically. After finishing the book, one might consider a better title to be "Girl, Interrupted."

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