Stieg Larsson’s trilogy has spawned two sets of movies, one in Swedish with subtitles and a second in English ready to film here. I avoided seeing the first when it came out for now, wanting to read the books first. I read the first, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, last summer. After a false start at the long beginning, I started again and plowed through it, once I learned not to stop and try to pronounce all of those Swedish names. I was caught up in the twists and turns of the horrific story, but most of all, of the unique protagonist, Lisbeth Salander, and the journalist Mikael Blomkvist who befriends her.
Larsson followed this with the wonderful The Girl Who Played with Fire, which I read quickly and with great energy. His plotting amazed me. His ability to take an unsympathetic character and make me care for her was startling. Then I took a few months off, holding off on the third because I knew Larsson had died and only left 200 pages of a fourth book. I resisted finishing the trilogy, the way a nun I once heard of resisted reading one of Dickens books. He was her favorite author, and she was a teacher and authority on him. She explained she wouldn’t read this last book because then there would be no more left to look forward to.
Then Doc, thinking he was doing me a favor, came home with the third book one day. It sat on my bedside table for exactly a week, and then I caved.
My reading that week was confined to bed-time. I stayed up far too late several nights in a row to reading, and once again, Larsson’s writing had me in its thrall. His books are like watching Batman–CRASH! SMACK! POW!!! The pace builds and builds. As the book opens, Lisbeth lies in critical condition, the result of injuries she’s barely survived at the hands of her father and half-brother. Her father is in the same hospital, just doors away, recovering from Lisbeth’s attack with an axe. That he’s buried her alive after shooting her doesn’t faze the maniacal Zalachenko, who has accused HER of trying to murder him. Under arrest for three murders she didn’t commit, Blomkvist hires his sister to represent Lisbeth and mounts his own investigation to clear her. From her hospital bed, Lisbeth manages to assist him. How they work in concert is a large part of the plot of this third volume.
Despite my reticence to finish, I kept on reading, until on the third evening it was 2 AM and my eyes were closing. I had only 30 pages or so to go, and the book was tying up loose ends, almost in an epilogue of sorts. So I put it aside and slept. The next afternoon I carved out a few minutes to finish what I expected to be more closure. And we’re off! In those last pages Larsson managed to eke out yet ONE more plot twist, more action-filled scenes, until only the last two pages where a sort of true epilogue.
This is writing at its finest. Lisbeth is an anti-heroine, and yet as more and more of her story is revealed, Larsson was able to provoke empathy for her. The social mores of Sweden and well as the political ones are carefully documented, too. His imagination knew no bounds. The trilogy is highly recommended.
I know exactly how that nun felt.
God, I’ll miss Larsson’s writing.