Goodreads: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (and the Millennium trilogy)

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Continuing the trend of being last to the party, I finished the Millennium series this week. It’s an odd little series, two stories told across three books, about an investigative journalist and an antisocial computer hacker who bring down some awful men through the power of the press and also some violence. Either exposé or guns. It’s kind of odd.

The books were written by Stieg Larsson, (the main character, Mikael Blomkvist, is an obvious author insertion)himself an investigative reporter and journalist, and were published posthumously. Supposedly most of a fourth novel exists, which will give everyone a chance to cry about how bad it is when it’s eventually finished by someone else.

So no summary here. There are movies, and there will be more movies, and everyone’s read these anyway. But here are some things I liked:

I really liked the overall optimism of the books. They cover some dark subjects, and the second and third books especially get into some conspiracies and government misdeeds, but in fact the stories never become the-heroes-against-the-world, and in most cases, the cadre of good, trustworthy people outnumber the bad guys. Mikael and Lisbeth always have allies, and their allies never betray them. The fundamental threat the protagonists pose to the bad guys is exposure in the press, whereupon an indignant public and hardworking, honest politicians will spring into action. When the bad guys turn out to be a group of policemen, another group steps up to help. At no point is Larsson using overwhelming opposition to manipulate the reader’s emotions, and the overall setting of the book is one in which people are good and reliable on the whole, even if many many individuals are flawed.

I liked the writing. Of course I read them in translation, by Reg Keeland, so the credit here may not devolve to Larsson entirely, but some of the odd, clipped details must be in the original, because I cannot believe any translator would add them. Every discussion of computer software and hardware is oddly specific. We’re told on several occasions what the screen size and hard drive capacity are for computers that appear. We’re told every make of mobile phone that appears. We’re even given a little lesson in PGP encryption. It can be a little distracting, especially in the first book, but across the trilogy it establishes itself as a style, and I feel like the exactness of the description works to establish the reliability of the narrator.

The style is very matter-of-fact, and very little ink is wasted on descriptions of scenery or decoration. It works out wonderfully in the chapters describing Lisbeth Salander, who reads like a person with Asperger’s, but it also works when describing the life of an honest investigative journalist, because nothing feels embellished. The flipside is that there’s no poetry in it.

And that’s where I’m going to leave the praise for a moment to discuss the major disappointment of the series. It covers some weighty and important areas, and it can be grim reading at times, but it frankly wasn’t a series that made me think. The bad guys are bad, and there really isn’t a lot of opportunity to engage with them and come to understand how someone could become bad. So when I read it, I felt like those guys sucked, these misogynists and criminals, but hey, that’s not me, so I don’t need to feel bad. And I didn’t.

And what’s weird about that is that it’s clear that in some cases, it seems like Mikael Blomkvist does sort of understand and empathize, specifically with the main villain in the first book. It’s as if a halfhearted attempt to humanize certain of the villains has been made, and has fallen flat. That’s a failure of the writing, but I haven’t decided if it’s a failure of style or a failure of vision.

But read them.

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