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Book Review: The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson

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In Larsson’s first book, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, we’re introduced to one kickass heroine in the form of the petite and punked-out Lisbeth Salander. She returns in the second book sans one tattoo and her nose ring, but with breast implants.

Larsson underlined her boyish appearance in the first book, and the sadistic pedophiles she attracted because of it, so the new boobs are a dramatic departure. On the other hand, they may just be another couple of piercings for her. We are meant to see a softer side of Salander, but don’t let her new toys fool you. Once she takes them for a test run with a new guy and an old girlfriend, she’s still the same feisty-cum-deadly adversary we’ve grown to love.

Her bisexuality fits right in with the popular freewheeling stereotype of Sweden, but homophobic cops do not, nor do the unequal treatment, sexual harassment, and brutalization of women, especially the psychiatric professionals who have “a state-endorsed mandate to tie down disobedient little girls with leather straps.”

In addition, while Blomkvist, the other central character in both books, is fine with his primary lover, Erica Berger, being married, and she admits to enjoying the occasional ménage, even he would never consider a three-way with she and her husband. That just doesn’t seem Swedish, if you know what I mean.

In Larsson’s first book, each chapter was introduced with a statistic of the abuse women suffer in Sweden at the hands of men. Indeed, the original title of that book was “Men Who Hate Women.” In The Girl Who Played With Fire, big money criminals, petty thugs and a corrupt SAPO (Swedish National Police Board), collide with a thriving sex trade. If sex is so freely available in Sweden, how do prostitutes and their pimps thrive?

Larsson gives us a birds-eye view of ordinary middle class people living conventional lives. The other lesson is that purchased sex comes with permission to be brutal, and therefore attracts a certain brand of customer. With the former, we indulge in one of the primary pleasures of foreign fiction – a glimpse at how other people live their lives, but with the latter we get the author’s point-of-view through both Salander and Blomkvist.

“What’s right,” is something both characters contemplate. Loyalty is at the top of the list for each of them, and Salander is learning about friendship. A major turn for Lisbeth is her growing ability to trust men.

Frequent coincidence is an all too convenient authorial device to move the plot forward. Both the police and a private detective agency are a bunch of inept bunglers, but I ignored them because I wanted to find out what would happen next. I was hoping that Salander would mete out her particular form of punishment to the bad guys with a full charge of her taser. I was not disappointed. Even without that charming bit of modern technology, Lisbeth is a quick thinker, lithe, and she fights with everything she’s got. The girl has suffered plenty in her life, and it’s payback time moderfokker!*

*contrived reviewer Swedish slang

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About S. Ramos O'Briant