Friday, October 8, 2010

Book Review: The Girl who Kicked the Hornets' Nest, by Stieg Larsson

The Millennium Trilogy, by Stieg Larsson:
1. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, 09.07.2010 ****
2. The Girl who Played with Fire, 09.23.2010 ***
3. The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, 10.06.2010 ****

(Warning - Minor spoilers ahead!)
The third and final installment of the Millennium Trilogy begins (with a bang!) with Salander arriving at the hospital shortly after the conclusion of Book 2.  We find out through flashbacks how she got there, and then the story rockets off through her surgery and recovery.  Unfortunately, Zalachenko was also rescued and is recovering in a hospital room two doors down from Salander, and both of them are determined to kill the other as a preemptive strike.  Zalachenko is spinning a web of lies to the police, of course, and no one believes anything Salander has to say.  But apparently, The Section has become tired of cleaning up Zalachenko's messes and decides to cover their tracks - they simply have to strong-arm Zalachenko into following the party line.  But Zalachenko has never been particularly good at following directions...

Meanwhile, the police have decided to charge Salander with attempting to murder Zalachenko, even as they grudgingly admit that she had nothing to do with the original three murders in Stockholm.  At the point the story slows down.  Way down.  Mikael hires his sister to be Salander's lawyer, the police are looking for Neiderman (Salander's half-brother), the police are investigating The Section, The Section is investigating everyone else.  Berger leaves Millennium Magazine to work at a large daily newspaper and immediately comes under attack from a stalker.  Numerous superfluous characters are introduced that have little to do with the main story, but finally, at long last, the day of the trial arrives!

Mikael has been running around investigating like crazy, helping Salander and his sister plan their defense, and working with the police to take down The Section.  On the day of the trial, he releases a book and a special issue of the magazine devoted to the truth about The Section, Zalachenko, and Salander; as well as releasing the original sex-trade scandal book that prompted The Section to get involved in the first place.  At the trial, Dr. Teleborian, Salander's old doctor from when The Section had her committed as a teenager, postures and poses on the witness stand about the lies that he and The Section have decided to tell about Salander, until Salander's lawyer finally rips him and his testimony to shreds on the stand, leaves him speechless and confused, and then allows the police to haul him away to face charges of his own!  This was the single most satisfying moment of the novel, among many.

I won't spoil any more of the story - there's lots of detail and tons of things happen, including the ultimate showdown re-match for Salander and Neiderman - but suffice it to say that this is by far the best of the three novels.

What I did find interesting was that, once again, this novel is all about the parallels, it seems.  It continues the theme from the previous two books of the dangers of social indifference to violence against women and how laws don't work if they aren't enforced (at least that's what I got out of it).  But in this one I noticed a much stronger reference to what I see as the nature vs. nurture argument.  The parallels between Salander and
Neiderman I found fascinating - She's tiny, rational, and fearless, he's monstrously huge and terrified of the delusions produced by his irrational mind.  He also has a genetic physical condition that causes him to feel no pain at all. 

Salander, on the other hand, feels pain, but has been conditioned by the way society treats her to be completely emotionless, feeling neither love nor hate.  But wait, you say, she clearly hated Bjurman & Teleborian, Zalachenko & Neiderman, for what they had done to her and her family.  And that's true, but even her hatred of them is not so much emotional as based on principle - "you're a bastard jerk and must be punished."  Her motives are very much based on her own morals and perspectives of right and wrong. (It's wrong for men to treat women like trash, but she sees nothing wrong with stealing from them or committing other crimes against them- in her mind it is a just punishment for what they have done - they were wrong first, etc.).

Throughout this 3rd novel we see Salander struggling, not against the men who want to lock her up and silence her - she seems to see the trial as a mere inconvenience to be swatted away. Her struggle is all internal. She seems to begin to realize how the events of her life have affected her socially, and struggles with the idea and process of letting someone into her life, of trusting other people (especially men), and most of all what it means to be a friend and to have friends.  Unlike Neiderman, who overcomes nothing and will never feel anything, she grows, and towards the end of the story we see a hint that she might be making progress towards that goal.

All in all, this was a good series, serious at times, and exciting also.  The social commentary never got too heavy.  This is not a series that I would probably ever re-read, but I'm glad that my friend "T" loaned me the books and convinced me to read them. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and am curious to see how the film versions will turn out - although they could never be "quite" as good as the books.

Feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you think!!


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