(Tattooed is an ongoing series.)
Welcome back to Earth, Stieg Larsson. The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest (2007) is somewhat of a return to reality.
In my opinion reality is what differentiated its predecessors. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2005) was compelling because it captured a world we know exists but are too afraid to accept. After reading it I thought, “This is terrible because shit like this happens all the time.” Then The Girl Who Played With Fire (2006) came along and I was like, “Wait, you lost me. This shit wouldn’t happen in a million years.”
For example, Hornets’ Nest picks up where its predecessor left off: our heroine, Lisbeth Salander, has a bullet in her brain. Despite this she has crawled from a freshly dug grave, walked quite a distance, struck her father in the face with an ax and managed to not pass out until Mikael Blomkvist conveniently finds her. Is she really in jeopardy? No. Any reader knows Salander can’t die because if she does the whole book series will go with her. You also know her mental capacities will remain intact or there will be no fun (although it would have been interesting to explore actual brain damage but…).
Due to her injuries Lisbeth spends most of the novel in a hospital bed. And, for some reason, the plot of the novel remains pretty stationary as well. The bulk of Hornets’ Nest is people having conversations. Conversations in boardrooms, offices, cafes, at home, you name it. Characters also converse on the phone or online. They talk, talk, think and plan then talk some more. It isn’t until chapter 7 that something major happens (someone gets shot in the head) and it’s rather amusing that catalyst for the action is a 78-year-old man dying of cancer. Apparently everyone else was too busy so this was the guy who decided to take action.
Then there is even more talking. There is also tons of exposition and background, even on characters who die shortly after being introduced. Entire passages are devoted to the history of The Section, a secret government agency most of the government isn’t even aware of. Of course, The Section is a corrupted faction that has been protecting Zalachenko all along so they are the bad guys. There are also several cronies we have met in the previous book. This provides an opportunity for what readers want as well as expect: Blomkvist is going to expose them; Salander is going to get revenge on them.
But until that happens the plot becomes a quagmire of nuttiness. In one instance we have a character spying on another character who is being spied on who is spying on people spying on people who are robbing him. What the hell did I just write? Never mind. This actually happened in the book and it made my head hurt. In the meantime other things go down, in particular a subplot about Erika Berger starting work at Svenska Morgon-Posten and having some sort of sexually deranged stalker. That was somewhat interesting but in the end it didn’t figure into the larger plot in any way, shape or form. There is a also a subplot about Millennium publishing a piece about imported toilets. The story is EXPLOSIVE, but overall not very necessary either.
What’s more, a love story works its way into the text. I found this aspect of the novel the least compelling. Blomkvist is at it again, this time with a muscle-y member of the Swedish secret police, Monica Figuerola. Her two main interests are exercise and sex, and it’s quickly established that she is super-super-buff, smart, intimidating to men and built like a brick shithouse. From the moment she encounters Blomkvist the sparks fly. She tells him he can either come with her for questioning or she’ll handcuff him. Blomkvist seems to decide, “Well, I’ve always wanted to have sex with a giant.”
So he does. (sigh) Okay, I get it. No woman can resist sleeping with Mikael Blomkvist.
Anyway, Salander makes a full recovery in a couple of months, which is an absolute miracle. She apparently doesn’t need ongoing physical therapy or drugs and her mental abilities aren’t seriously effected. Blomkvist arranges for her PDA to be delivered to her and for an Iraqi janitor to help with her internet connection (sadly I found this janitor to be a character with potential but he is quickly forgotten). She immediately sets out to hack information she’ll need for her upcoming trial. She digs up dirt on her former doctor, Peter Teleborian, for example. The guy is a pedophile and has over 9000 images of child pornography on his computer. Busted.
Then the trial happens. I was a bit confused by the trial because everything seemed to be… weird. It reminded me of courtroom scenes in Adam Sandler movies where you’re pretty sure everything is going against procedure. Maybe there are different rules in a Swedish court, but having a defendant issue rebuttals during the questioning of a witness is flat-out strange. And the judge is fine with it, apparently.
There are also weird things going on with the witnesses and the presentation of evidence but I don’t even want to go there.
Needless to say, all of this works wonders. Salander is acquitted, The Section is exposed and everyone involved in the Zalachenko conspiracy is ruined. It’s the best possible outcome. But how does Salander deal with it? She runs away, gets drunk, fucks a married guy and doesn’t contact anyone for weeks. At this point I found myself frustrated with her character as a whole. As the Millennium Series draws to a close it’s hard to ignore how characters have continuously rallied around Salander and defended her, working tirelessly and putting their careers and lives in jeopardy. They devote so much of their time and energy to helping and understanding her. What are they getting from their relationship with her, though? I mean, really?
Don’t get me wrong. I think that Salander is a brilliant, misunderstood person, a true one-of-a-kind. The epilogue of this book seems like a true return to that form, the Salander I came to appreciate in the first book. She is positively brutal, calculating and follows her own moral code. Also, she knows how to handle a nail gun. That’s a definite plus in a sticky situation, although her inventiveness is stomach-churning.
But could she at least say “Thank you”? How about picking up her phone every once in a while? Does she really have to insist on being unpredictable and unknowable?
Well, not all is lost by the novel’s end. Beyond that the only person with the answers is Stieg Larsson, and unfortunately he is no longer around to answer them.
Having finished the series I found myself recalling a line from- believe it or not- BBC’s Blackadder, where the titular character observes, “Everybody has one novel in them.” I honestly believe that The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was that novel for Larsson. It may not have purged everything, it may not have said everything he wanted to say, but it was the best thing he did. I would say it stands on its own.
Whenever I talk to people about the series in the future, I will tell them it’s all they need to read.
NOTE: I would like to add that I opted to skip the Swedish film adaptation of the third book. I think it’s clear by now that I simply don’t like them. Not a bit. So why subject myself to it at all?
I did take an image from the film’s promotional stills, though (see above). It seemed fitting, moving something as uncontainable as Salander into a boardroom-like setting. Who knew that the conclusion of the Millennium Series would mostly be talking heads?