Monday, July 26, 2010

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Girl Who Played with Fire, and Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

Rather than write a separate post for each book, I'm just writing one for all three. It's a long one, and it's mostly me gushing over the books. But I don't want to say too much for fear of giving something away.

When I imagine Lisbeth Salander, I automatically hear the Mission Impossible music playing or maybe something from the Matrix soundtrack, something that sounds big and powerful, and I see her walking forward, calmly, steadily, a bullet in her head, blood on her face, a weapon in her hand, her shirt is torn, her arms are scraped up, but she remains invincible as she leaves behind a trail of destruction in her wake. I see towering flames, buildings falling and explosions going off behind her, but none of it fazes her in the least. She’s done with that shit, she’s moving on to the next bastard who needs his ass kicked.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
My image of Salander is based only on the books. I plan to watch the first movie later tonight, but I wanted to write my review of the books first because I don’t want the movie to influence what I write.

This morning I finished reading The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. It’s the third in the Millennium series, or The Girl Trilogy, as I’ve seen it called. The series that begins with Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, continues into Girl Who Played with Fire and ends with The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.
I have been so engrossed in the world created by these books. There are times it’s all I can think about it. When I wasn’t reading, I was wishing I was reading – more so than normal. I just wanted to get back to the books. When I went to sleep, I dreamed about this world – and that wasn’t such a good thing. But I was that sucked in.

Difficult to believe that I avoided these books for so long.

I’ve been hearing about these books for a while. It’s not possible to walk into a bookstore or past any sort of book display without seeing them. But I wasn’t going to get sucked into the hype. I really didn’t have any interest in reading them. I could try to come up with a sensible reason as to why I didn’t want to read them – over exposure, not wanting to follow the crowd, too violent. But the truth is, I’m very particular about the crime novels I read. I tend to only read crime novels by women. In fact, I tend to only read books by women and anytime I read something by a man, I often find I regret it. I didn’t want to read these books because they were written by a man. Call it reverse sexism or whatever, but there it is.

As I was getting ready to leave for a two week trip to Europe, I became desperate to find a book to read on the trip. I would be spending lots of time on planes and trains and I’m the type that always has to have a book with me. I needed something that wouldn’t take up too much space, wasn’t too heavy, but would last for a while. I needed something interesting, and I wanted something European.

So I gave in to the Swedish crime novels that have topped the bestseller lists. If that many people loved the book, then it couldn’t be that bad. Also, I’d become more curious about the books after reading an article about the author in Vanity Fair. Most importantly though, the book would fit in my purse.

I ended up not reading it on the plane. I flew first class and had my own entertainment video system, so I watched movies the entire trip. When I ended up reading it was on the underground in London. Tip for solo travelers: always take a book. If you’re sitting there reading, you look like you know where you’re going, what you’re doing, and not like a lost, lonesome tourist.

The first book is very slow in the beginning. Lots of background and legal info. I think it took about 130 pages before I really felt like I was absorbed into the book. I was on the train from London to Paris when it happened.
I carried that book all over Paris with me, not realizing that the Millennium 2 movie poster I passed in the metro every day was for a movie based on Girl Who Played with Fire.

I finished The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on my last night in Paris. I thought I’d be able to pick up a copy of the sequel at the airport. The books were all over London. But the Paris airport – at least the section I was in – is a horrible place. I finally found a display of “foreign” books. They had about ten books in English, one of the books was Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. But Girl Who Played with Fire couldn’t be found. Luckily, I had another book to read on the plane from Paris to Boston. In the Boston airport, the first thing I did was find a bookstore and buy a copy of the sequel. I think I paid more for that book than I’ve ever paid for a paperback, probably more than I’ve ever paid for a hardback. But I wanted it right then so that I could read it on the plane back to Dallas. Then I promptly fell asleep after the plane took off. Typical.

Reading the books has almost felt like taking another trip across the ocean.

What I absolutely loved about the books is the character of Lisbeth Salander. She’s everything a person wants to be and should strive to be. She’s brilliant and strong and doesn’t give a damn about what anyone thinks of her. She’s in complete control of her emotions and actions. When someone hurts her or someone she cares about, she goes after that person. But not in a blind rage, she puts together an effective strategy and carefully puts it into place. She believes in taking responsibility for every action, never making excuses. She had a horrible childhood filled with abuse and torture and bureaucratic mishaps and she survived it all and made herself stronger as a result of it.

She's described as being 4’11” and thin, and yet she never backs down from a fight against someone bigger than her. To me, she is the perfect mixture of action and intellect. She does just as much, or more, fighting with her mind. I can’t remember the last time I loved a character this much. I can’t stop thinking about her, and am so sad that the series is over.

As I said, I initially avoided these books because I tend to not read books written by men. With that attitude, I was pleased to discover that the female characters in this series were, for the most part, strong women. The series is filled with women who care about their careers and their families, women who don't simper in a corner and wait for a man to save them, women who aren’t afraid to fight back. When a character calls for a body guard, it’s a woman that shows up to handle the job. The two toughest police officers in the story happen to be women. Also, the men who have problems with these women are viewed as complete idiots. It is clear that these books were written by a man who respected women, understood the kinds of adversity women often face, and did not in any way regard them as the weaker sex. It breaks my heart to know that there won’t be any more books written by him. (The author died after writing the third book. Supposedly, there is part of a fourth book written and maybe an outline for up to ten books.)

The Girl Who Played with Fire (Vintage)I read somewhere that the original title for the first book is something along the lines of Men Who Hate Women. I’m glad they changed it, because I like that the focus is put on Salander, but at the same time, the first title makes sense. The villains in the story are pure evil and sadistic and their cruelty is directed at women.

I have to admit, there was one scene that was so horrible, I very seriously considered setting the book down in the seat next to me on the Paris metro and leaving it there. I felt ill and stopped reading and looked around me, horrified by what I’d read. Of course, I realized no one around me knew what I’d just read. I didn’t think I could continue reading the book. I like my crime novels to be more intellectual, less physical. But I knew if I left the book there, I’d be wondering what happened next, so I kept reading. The horror was balanced by the brilliant way in which Salander sought her vengeance. I realized that what happened had to be that horrible in order to show the extent of Salander’s determination. Still, consider yourself warned.

I think the second book probably moved the quickest. I found parts of the third book slow, again it was because of extensive, but necessary background information. Once I got through that, the action picked up again. I had a few issues with one of the characters - Berger. I thought the author went overboard with describing her insatiable sexual needs. But, then again, I am something of a prude. Also, in the third book, I felt like the storyline involving Berger got in the way of the main storyline. He sort of tied it all together, but I think the book would have been fine without it. At this point in the series I was really disliking this character and just wanted her to go away.

Overall, though, I can’t remember the last time I got this excited about a series of books -- probably when I was reading books 1-4 of the Harry Potter series. I’m disappointed that despite the books’ popularity, it seems no one I know has read them, so I have no one to discuss them with. I could go on for hours and as lengthy as what I’ve written is, I cut out a couple of pages. (Not kidding.) So if anyone would like to borrow my books, feel free, then we can get together for dinner and discuss them.