By Adam Roche
This week, we continue our retrospective of the Millenium trilogy by Stieg Larsson. For the first part, please click here.
After the horrific events and tumultuous revelations on the island of the Vanger family, Mikael Blomkvist has returned not only to Stockholm, but to Millenium magazine. His reputation restored and his celebrity assured, Blomkvist has gone back to what he does best, namely digging the dirt. After being approached by a crusading journalist, Svenson, who wants to expose Sweden’s sordid sex trade business, Blomkvist agrees to publish a book naming and shaming it’s illustrious clientele.
Lisbeth Salander, however, cannot be found. She has broken contact with Blomkvist, having had her heart singed by his hedonistic views on love, and so has absconded from Sweden to travel the world with the three billion Krone she invisibly embezzled at the close of Part One.
It seems, however, that old habits die hard. After hacking into Blomkvist’s computer, she discovers the manuscript of the book Blomkvist plans to publish, and within it’s pages, the name ‘Zala’, an elusive shadow whose influence stretches high into the sex trade hierarchy. For Salander, however, the name means a whole lot more…
Resolving to find out more, she visits Svenson and his girlfriend Mia, to discover everything they know of Zala. Later that night, however, Svenson and Mia are found shot in their apartment, and every clue points to Salander.
Firmly trusting her innocence, Blomkvist begins to investigate the events of the evening, delving ever deeper into a spiralling abyss of murder, brutality and betrayal. Soon he is caught up so inextricably in its web that the only way to escape is to expose the black secret he has uncovered.
Salander, meanwhile, has begun an investigation of her own. One that will bring her face to face with her horrific past…
Larsson obviously planned for his ‘Millenium’ books to form a trilogy. Events hinted at in Part One are revisited here, along with the further fleshing out of characters you may have supposed to be incidental. Crucially, he fills in the gaps of Salander’s past, and again, it is she who brings this book to life. Blomkvist, as clever and nosey as he is, is not as magnetic as Salander. The problem though, is that she is absent for long stretches, most notably after the double murder that starts the engine of the book.
It’s necessary of course, as preliminary investigations into the victims and Salander commence, along with a media frenzy into Salander’s personal life that escalates to hysterical proportions. As details emerge, her absence causes us, the reader, to evaluate our knowledge of her, and decide for ourselves if she could be capable of such violence. The troubling conclusion is that, of course, she is.
The plot itself is well thought out. The Zala conspiracy has far reaching connotations and consequences involving some extremely well connected people who aren’t about to sit back and let a reporter and a damaged goth tarnish their names. The problem lies in Larsson’s insistence on introducing new characters at every turn, each with something at stake. No one, it seems, is unimportant. Valuable page space is given to Erika Berger and her decision to leave Millenium magazine for a better job. Ronald Nieminen, a marvelous new character who stands seven feet tall, is impervious to pain, and who speaks with a squeaky high-pitched voice, is given two unnecessarily drawn out scenes where he is stalked by a forest troll that doesn’t exist. The scenes bring nothing to the story and are never fully explained. They’re simply too diverting to be interesting, and end up as confusing.
And then we come to the main problem with the book. I have no idea what the arrangement between Larsson’s estate and the editor of his manuscripts is or was, but I get the feeling that the threat of death by stinging nettle was hanging over the editor if he so much as removed a word from Larsson’s original text.
Never before have I read such a bloated work of fiction. Here you will find Blomkvist telling himself that Salander must be innocent. She must be. He felt it. It was good enough for him. She had saved his life. That mattered to him. It was this thought that made him think she was innocent. She must be. She wouldn’t have saved his life and then taken another. And what reason would she have for doing it? There was none. She must be innocent. He believed that she was. He was a good judge of character. Besides, he knew Salander. True she didn’t want to see him anymore, but it didn’t matter. He believed her, and he had to trust his feelings. She was innocent alright. And he would prove it. He didn’t know how, but he would. She had saved his life, now he would save hers. He owed it to her.
Bored yet? Well strap those matchsticks onto those eyelids because you’ll find monologues like this aplenty. Blomkvist has this same conversation with himself several times throughout the course of the book. And not just him. Listen as Berger waffles on repeatedly about how she and Blomkvist get it on at all opportunities. Her husband knows about it. He approved. He was not the jealous type. Blomkvist gave her something that he could not. With her husband she had warmth, love. With Blomkvist she had sweaty porno sex. Her husband knew. And so on.
And what of the ridiculous fixation with detail that bogged down Part One so miserably? Well, it’s back. I refer you to page 73. Hang on to your Prozac kiddies, Salander’s going to Ikea!
“She bought two Karlanda sofas with sand-coloured upholstery, five Poang armchairs, two round side tables of clear-lacquered birch, a Svansbo coffee table and several Lack occasional tables. From the storage department she ordered two Ivar combination storage units and two Bonde bookshelves, a TV stand and a Magiker unit with doors. She settled on a Pax Nexus three-door wardrobe and two small Malm bureaus.
She spent a long time selecting a bed, and decided on a Hemnes bed frame with mattress and bedside tables. To be on the safe side, she also bought a Lillehammer bed to put in the spare room. She did not plan to have anyone to stay, but since she had a spare bedroom she might as well furnish it”
Unbelievably, three more paragraphs of items follow, and then we get to the exciting stuff:
“She made her way through the entire warehouse and bought a good supply of sheets, pillowcases, hand towels, duvets, blankets, pillows, a starter pack of stainless steel cutlery, some crockery, pots and pans, cutting boards, three big rugs, several work lamps, and a huge quantity of office supplies – folders, box files, waste-paper baskets, storage boxes, and the like”
Now let me try: “Salander went to Ikea and bought all the things she’d need to furnish her apartment”
Telling me that Salander bought two Karlanda sofas and a Svansbo coffee table conjures no image whatsoever in my mind. What the hell do either of these objects look like? Am I supposed to use an Ikea catalogue in conjunction with this book? And if so, why wasn’t one included?
But hey, if you really want to feel a part of what’s going on, take this excerpt, where Salander fights a giant biker:
“The toe of her boot shot up with full force and was transformed into kinetic energy in his crotch with a pressure of about 120 kilos per square centimetre”
Now, I knew Salander was a genius, but to perform a mental calculation of that intricacy in the heat of combat is really something else. But where does it leave us? Well I have relatively little experience with kilos per square centimetre, but I assume it to be bloody heavy, or fast, or hard or something. Kinetic energy in my crotch is something I’ve experienced, though I’d rather not say where or when.
And you will be astonished, nay dumbfounded with Blomkvist’s supernatural ability to enter an apartment and spookily know straight away it’s floor size in square metres. Nary an area doth pass our dear Blomkvist without him commenting on it’s 300 square metre floor area, or it’s 33 square metre floor area. And this is before he’s even looked the place over. At least his future as an estate agent is safe if the mag business suddenly turns to pulp.
The first part of the book contains a hopelessly unrelated section where Salander spies on a couple on holiday and comes to believe something sinister is going down. Tense, yes, but absolutely pointless. Oh, to have been an editor on this book. I truly do believe that had Larsson lived to see his books published, he would have overseen the editing and translating of his work with a little more care. As it is, ‘The Girl Who Played With Fire’ is a 569 page tome that could quite easily be cut down to 300 pages without losing any of it’s tension. Maybe one day, we’ll get an ‘Editor’s Cut’
So it’s overlong, packed with horrible translation and unnecessary detail, and overstays its welcome by 200 pages or so, but for all it’s faults, ‘The Girl Who Played With Fire’ does a good job of stealing your breath now and then. There are revelations in this book that will surprise and perhaps even disgust you (Dr Teleborian, I’m looking at you, sick man that you are)
Read the book though, by all means. You’ll have to if you want to discover the true soul of Salander, who it has to be said, is worth stalking. She remains this book’s greatest creation, and it’s lone salvation. You’ll find yourself cheering with delight and relief when she re-enters the story at various points. However, be prepared for long bouts of loss. She does like to hide herself away.
The quote on the front of the book is from Joan Smith of the Sunday Times, who says “This novel will leave readers on the edge of their seats”. The problem is that unless they’re fuelled with coffee, they may find themselves slumping to the floor.
Selected pictures taken from the upcoming film ‘The Girl Who Played with Fire’ from Yellow Bird Films