Thursday, July 14, 2011

Series In Review: The Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson

Series are a tricky thing. I have series that I love as a whole, but an individual book within the series did not impress me.  So I am not always sure that reviewing the individual books is fair to the author's vision. However, I do not want to postpone all of my reviews of the books within a series until the end. With those thoughts in mind I decided to start Series In Review. In these postings, I will be looking at more than one book in the series or if possible the entire series at one time.
**This review may contain spoilers for some of the books in the series**

The Girl with the Dragon TattooThe Girl Who Played with FireThe Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

Genre: Fiction, Mystery & Thrillers
Books Released in Series: The Girl with the Dragon TattooThe Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
Author Info: Website
Rating: 4 Stars 
Borrowed from library.

In A Nutshell:
This trilogy completely took my breath away.  I went through so many emotions while listening to these books.  I have never seen the victimization of a character so completely described.  It brought feelings of disgust and outrage.  However at the end I felt relief; relief that the books were over and that I was satisfied at the end. 

Stieg Larsson’s characters were intriguing and realistically flawed.  The plot line of each book draws the reader in.  Stieg Larsson explained a lot of the elements of Swedish culture and Swedish law that affected the story, so the story was not hard to follow.  However, some of the issues covered and some of the scenes themselves are distressing. 

I struggled a little with the rating of this series.  I loved it.  It was very well written, but it was hard to read so I cannot say I will read it again.  This trilogy is not for the faint of heart.  There are descriptions of a lot of events that are creepy, violent, and even sadistic.  I do not think that Stieg Larsson’s intent in writing was to disgust the reader with these descriptions; the real feelings of disgust should be about the inhumane way that Lizbeth Salander was treated by so many of the authority figures that touched her life. 

The defining moment for me happened when Prosecutor Ekstrom realizes that Lizbeth Salander is the victim, she was always the victim.  And Ekstrom was nothing more than a tool in a plot to continue victimizing her.  The feeling that overcame him when he realized what had happened right under his nose; I almost felt sorry for him.  But my sympathies lie firmly with Lizbeth Salander. 

As an American reading this book, I think it would be easy to blame this victimization on the Swedish laws; the loopholes that were exploited to allow this victimization to happen.  And I do believe that exposing those loopholes may have been part of why Stieg Larsson wrote the books.  He devoted a lot of time to explaining the Swedish laws and constitution, and how The Section was able to function without notice within those laws and within that constitution.  But I think that thinking about this story as a Swedish problem is too easy. 

While I agree that the victimization started and was perpetuated by The Section.  They were not the only ones who victimized Lizbeth Salander.  She was victimized by her father, and in some ways her mother who did not leave her father.  She was victimized by her legal guardian.  In some ways, I would even say she was victimized by the school she had attended as a child that told stories about her to the media.  Even if the stories were true, I found myself asking why no one at the school tried to delve deeper to see if there was more behind her acting out.  In the end, we learn that Lizbeth Salandar is a very intelligent person, but not one teacher saw that?  All of these entities are part of most, if not all, societies, and could victimize a person of any nationality.  This is not a Swedish problem—it is a problem that everyone should be looking at.  How can we prevent ourselves and others from being victims?

In general, I am not a proponent of resorting to violence.  However, in the context of this story I did not see that Lizbeth Salander was given many options.  She could not turn to the authorities.  The people who should have been protecting her had no qualms about using violence against her.  What was she to do?  However, the propensity for Lizbeth Salander and others in this story to resort to violence made aspects of the books overwhelming.  I do not feel that Stieg Larsson was excessive in his use of violence.  In Lizbeth Salander, he created a character who would protect herself if attacked but who did not seek out opportunities to attack or be violent.  She really wanted society in general and the government in particular to stay out of her life. 

Lizbeth Salander was an intriguing character.  While I hesitate to call her likable, she is a character that will stick with me for a long time.  She was socially awkward, but she did have friends.  Friends, like Plague and Trinity, who she reached out to when she needed help the most.  Friends, like Blomkvist and Armansky, who reached out to help her without her asking.  She inspired an uncommon level of dedication in those she let close to her, and in exchange she would give them in return an uncommonly high level of dedication.  She was not always an easy friend, but she was dependable.  She tried to do the best by the people she allowed close to her.
I was sad to learn that Stieg Larsson died before his books became the international sensation they are today.  There are two books, however, that I would like to read about his life, which are written by people who were close to him.
"There Are Things I Want You to Know" about Stieg Larsson and MeStieg Larsson: Our Days in Stockholm
I have also watched all three of the movies and definitely recommend them.  However, I do caution people that they are explicit movies--they do show parts of the violent rape from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
The Girl With the Dragon TattooThe Girl Who Played With FireThe Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest (English dubbed)


  1. Excellent and very thoughtful reivew. I liked this book as well (my thoughts:

    I think Larsson was a self described feminist and wrote those books basterdizing the Swedish laws on purpose. If you get a chance watch the movie "Changeling" to see how that HAS happened in the US.

  2. Thank you for the movie suggestion. I have added the movie to my netflix queue.

    The more I have learned about Larsson and his life, the more that I have been fascinated by him. I really want to read the book by Eva Gabrielsson! I think her insight would be very interesting.

  3. Don't you think it's a bit too early for a book about Larsson?

    I'd like to read an analysis of his life and books in about 10 years of so when we'll know how/if his work has impacted our culture.

  4. I think it is too early for a book about the impact his work will have on the culture, but the two books I want to read about him are reflections from friends and from his partner. Those I think can come out now. I have also read that there is some mis-information out there in part because his family is controlling his estate (and supposedly he was not close to his family when he passed). His partner has been excluded from a lot of the decisions about his work because they were not married. But I think she will have more insights on what his goals were and things like that.

    In 10 years, I would love to read something about the impact his work had on our culture and the culture in his own country. But I do not think a friend or his partner would necessarily be the best person to write that.

  5. I've been waiting to see an honest review of this. Sorry, but the reviews at Amazon can be...

    Anyway, I now think I'd like to read the series and had no idea there were movies. I think I know what my husband and I will be watching when I am in Toronto with him for the next 3 months!

    Great review. Thank you.

  6. Hi Angel--

    The movies were done in Sweden, but they have English subtitles and English dubbing (at least the ones I got from the library did). I thought the movies were very well done.

    There are also American versions of the movies in production now. However, I am not optimistic that they will keep to the characterizations that Larsson intended. The promotions I have seen so far sexualize Lizbeth in a way that I do not think is in line with her characterization in the books.

    Thank you for the compliment. :)