Reviewing The Girl Who Played with Fire for Translated Tuesday feels a little bit like cheating. The goal is to highlight current translated works, which this book is, but it isn’t as if it’s a relatively unknown work, people have been waiting to read about the Wasp and Kalle Blomkvist for months. But, it was so much fun, I decided not to resist. (A link to a giveaway is below.)
How can they sleep?
The first thing that strikes me about Larsson books has nothing to do the with the writing, the plot, the sex, or the suspense–it’s the fact that these Swedes can drink coffee. A lot of coffee, at any time of day or night, over and over again. In fact, I wondered if my insomnia last week resulted from reading about characters having espresso in the middle of the night. In all likelihood, my inability to relax had everything to with the book, Larsson conveys an edginess I felt from the first to the last page.
Character Novel on Speed
In The Girl Who Played with Fire, Larsson flips the focus to Lisbeth while Blomkvist plays the secondary role. The combination of both books gives the reader a full picture of both characters. We met Lisbeth in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the reader learns much more about her than the other characters. It is in this second installment of the Millennium trilogy that we start to understand her actions. Almost halfway into the book, all of the characters catch up with the reader and everyone is on equal ground regarding Lisbeth. The police suspect she murdered three people and start to question her few friends. These conversations leave everyone confused about who the real Lisbeth is:
Bublanski drummed his fingers on the table and looked down at the flow of people on Gotgatan. He felt strangely torn. The psychiatric reports that Faste had retrieved from the guardianship agency claimed that Salander was a deeply disturbed and possibly violent person who was to all intents and purposes mentally handicapped. What Armansky and Blomkvist had told him painted a very different picture from the one established by medical experts over several years of study. Both men conceded that Salander was an odd person, but both held her in high regard professionally.
For me, the most fascinating aspect of the book was explaining Lisbeth. She is clearly damaged by her past, but far from ruined. Blomkvist describes her as someone with morals, “[h]er own particular moral standards. You can’t talk her into doing anything against her will. In her world, things are either right or wrong.” While she’s built defensive walls, she cares and will sacrifice for others. The real mystery solved in this book is who is Lisbeth.
The Girl Who Played with Fire is a character novel dressed up as a fast paced thriller. I love the slow unfolding of character artfully combined with fast action. I find the hacker portions fascinating. Lisbeth reminds me of Gary McKinnon, except he allegedly sabotaged files (Lisbeth declares she doesn’t harm just because she can) and he got caught. Plus, I’m always rooting for this tiny girl to bring down the bad guys. As I noted about Back to the Coast, it’s nice to have female protagonists.
I read the British translation which was available in paperback months ago. Rumor has it that the translator, Reg Keeland, thinks the American version is better. I noticed some differences (torch for flashlight, height and weight given in meters and kilos) that I assumed would be changed for the US audience. I assumed Keeland buffed up the British version rather than started from scratch from the Swedish version, but if so, why the big difference? I’m not quite curious enough to now read the American edition, but if anyone has any thoughts on why one would be significantly better than the other, when both are from the same translator, please share them.
What first peaked my interest about Stieg Larsson wasn’t the hubbub about his book, there’s always talk about some great book, it was his death. and the litigation over his estate. As many readers of this blog know, I used to practice estate planning law. I’ve seen many examples of what can happen if you don’t have a Will. If I was still practicing, this would be the story I’d tell in every meeting for months. Apparently, Steig Larsson wrote the entire Millennium trilogy and died of a heart attack before the books were published. They are a huge hit resulting in millions of kroners in Larsson’s estate. Who receives the money? He lived with a woman for years, she was his life companion, but they never married. He did have a Will prepared years ago giving the money to an organization, but he never signed it. As in the US, Sweden has intestate laws that decide who receives a deceased person’s assets in the event there is not a Will and under these laws Larsson’s father and brother are very wealthy men.
If you don’t have a Will, get one.
Books on the Nightstand is giving away a copy of The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, plus dragon tattoos. Check it out.