11 August 2010

Reading Stieg Larsson while in South Dakota

Like Bird, I finished Stieg Larsson's trilogy while on vacation. But I'd read the first two books before I left home.

I was amazed that The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest began exactly where The Girl Who Played with Fire had ended. It was almost as if an editor had cut the manuscript at the end of a paragraph and declared the first part book 2. The section beginning with the next paragraph was thus declared to be book 3. If I'd been at home, I'd have gotten Fire off the shelf to remind myself exactly what was going on in the final pages. But I was in South Dakota.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is a coda to the story (and it is all one story). Bird likened the trilogy to Tolkein's epic. As I read the last book, I began to think of Larsson's story as a symphony. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is the first movement which introduces the themes and characters; The Girl Who Played with Fire is a second movement in which those themes and characters are played out; The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is really two movements -- the first movement introduces new characters who part of one of the main themes and the second is the coda, or conclusion where all the themes and characters are resolved. (Pardon my musical ignorance, but that's how I understand symphonies. Corrections and instructions are welcome.)

After the heights of the second movement (Fire), the third and fourth movements of Hornet's Nest were a bit of a let down, but they're sort of supposed to be as the conflicts are resolved. By the time the really bad guys are introduced in the first part of Hornet's Nest, they are so vulnerable that their fate seems obvious. And the final resolutions are almost "Happily Ever After (sort of)."

I, too, was driven to read these books. I just didn't have them all during one vacation time. The characters are what really carried the story for me. The conspiracy was a little thin and a lot paranoid, but almost believable. (The Cold War can be a scapegoat for lots of terrible fictional things since it was the cause of so many terrors of real life. Remember the Cuban Missile Crisis?) But the story telling kept me going as well, though I don't know if it would have been as good without Salander and Blomkvist and the villains.

I leave it to some academics to point out the commonalities between Larsson's books, Tolkein's stories, Rowling's wizardry, and other immensely popular "must reads." I'd be interested in hearing their theories about what makes books so quickly and immensely popular.

But here's the deal: the three Larsson books are worth the time -- even if you only devote half an hour at bedtime for a couple months to them. But read them in order. I'll bet that those half hours become hours and then weekend afternoons pretty quickly.

Katherine Dunn's review of Hornet's Nest in The Oregonian
Ed Siegel's review of Hornet's Nest in Newsday
Alicia Rancilio's review of Hornet's Nest in Taiwan News

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