Thursday, July 15, 2010
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson
I tried to summarize these books but just couldn't. Basically, there's a Swedish investigative journalist, Mikael Blomqvist, and Lisbeth Salaner, the brilliant but troubled computer hacker he hires to help research a big expose. Their lives become intertwined while exposing lots of financial, corporate, and political scandals. Oh, and there are some unpleasant sex crimes.
I can understand why the first book in this series was such an international sensation, and even the second had some good bits in it, though I didn't like it as much as the first. (Though in retrospect I'm not even sure I liked it -- I just couldn't stop reading it and had to find out what happened, which probably doesn't even make sense). I'd been on the waiting list for this book from the library for quite awhile, and I needed to read it before I went on vacation -- no way I'd have been able to renew it with another hundred people waiting for it).
But the first 100 pages of this book didn't seem to be going anywhere. Lisbeth Salander, the eponymous girl in the title, is slowly recovering in the hospital after being shot and buried alive (!), and lots of people with confusing names are discussing what they're going to do about it -- journalists, cops, government types, and various criminal organizations. I think the problem may be that it's been several months since I read the previous installment, and I was pretty confused. Maybe I should have taken notes the first time around -- could it be a problem with the names, which are, of course, mostly Swedish? But seriously, there are so many characters, and the names are really confusing. And unlike many other series books, this book did not go back and remind the reader who in the heck all these people are -- it picked up immediately after the first book, assuming that either the reader had just finished the previous book or has a stellar memory (like Lisbeth.) For example -- there are two bad guys in the same organization named Nieminen and Niedermann! I feel guilty about mixing them all up -- does this make me a stupid American? [I felt much better after I read Nora Ephron's hilarious essay in the New Yorker, The Girl Who Fixed the Umlaut.]
I finally got through this book by basically skimming all the parts where Larsson is trying to explain the history of the Swedish secret service/spy agencies with lots of political stuff, which I found really dry. (Since I skipped most of this I'm not quite sure if he's actually incorporating real political events in his book or just giving the reader some historical context. There are actually endnotes.) Anyway, the book really does get better when Lisbeth starts to recover and by convoluted methods is actually able to start hacking again while in the hospital under police guard. She's not even supposed to have a pencil, but because she is a super badass and has friends who are willing to break lots of laws, she's able to hack into all kinds of secret files to create her defense, which is great because otherwise she'd have nothing to do while basically a prisoner in a hospital. Larsson must have finally realized that she's by far the most interesting character, much more than the other one, the sexy investigative journalist, Mikael Blomkvist (even though the requisite women are still jumping into bed with him in a heartbeat. Ho hum.)
Even though I'm disturbed by some of the misogyny in these books, I have to point out that there are some good strong female characters. Even though yet another female character is subject to some nasty humiliation about her sex life (which I found totally unnecessary), Larsson introduces two new great characters, a tough but sexy secret agent, Monica Figueroa, and a tough, sexy security consultant, Susanne Linder. And Blomkvist's sister has quite a big role as Lisbeth's defense lawyer -- she's also tough and brilliant. (And since she's Blomkvist's sister, I assume she's also sexy). If Larsson hadn't died so unexpectedly, I would have liked to see spin-off series with any of these characters.