Friday, May 8, 2009

Review: THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE : a real curate's egg.

Title: The Girl Who Played with Fire
Author: Stieg Larsson
Publisher: Quercus
This edition published: 2009
ISBN: 9781847245564
569 pages

Lisbeth’s friend, Blomqvist is working on a major story for his magazine Millennium. They are about to blow wide open the details of human trafficking for prostitution in Sweden. They are going to name names. The couple working on to story are gunned down in their apartment and Salander’s prints are on the gun left behind. A country-wide hunt for the girl with the violent past ensues; most think she’s guilty but when the investigating officer begins to question the people in Salander’s life, he gets a very different picture of the woman described in official records.

I’ve heard the expression “curates egg” and know what it means but I’ve often wondered where that expression came from. I found a nice explanation of its origin on the Phrase Finder website.

THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE fits that definition exactly. Good in parts but annoying and exasperating in others. The book begins with a recap of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO and a very detailed account on the minutiae of the life of Lisbeth Salander. In fact these elements are so detailed that its past page 150 before the meat of the story even begins. I nearly gave up on the book, but a number of people urged me to keep going because it was worth it. I did persevere and I’m glad I did. But there were other things in the book that I struggled with: overlong-fight scenes with a minor character that was almost invincible which might have worked in an action movie but seemed silly and out of place in the book and a scene with Salander in danger towards the end that had me rolling my eyes.
My reaction to the book had me asking questions about the accolades the book has received. Does it truly merit this or is there the “Marilyn Monroe” effect happening? Would the books have been as universally acclaimed if the author hadn’t died tragically young before the books were published? How much editing was done on THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE? Was there a sense of “we mustn’t’ touch this work”? Would the publishers have allowed nearly 150 pages of back story and Salander’s daily life to stand as it does if Larsson had lived?
Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE, but I enjoyed it with reservations which not many seem to have expressed. Am I alone? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Bernadette in Australia said...

Isn't it great that we can have different opinions - how boring it would be if we all fell in love with the same books.

For the record I loved TGWPWF - I rated it 5/5 - even more than the first book in the series. Although I admit it had problems (yes the first 150 pages could have been more tightly edited which would have improved it) for me those problems didn't matter. I love the story telling that Larsson does, it's almost got an old-fashioned feel to it although the subject matter is very modern. And I adore Lisbeth. I don't think she's realistic by any stretch of the imagination but male characters have been getting away with being superheroes for decades and it's nice to see a female character, especially one who doesn't conform to the traditional male fantasy figure, in that kind of role.

Personally I don't think I'm influenced by the fact that Larsson is dead (apart from the fact I may never have heard of him if he was still alive as his books might not have been translated) but I can't speak for others.

Sunnie Gill said...

The strength of the overall mystery and the characterisations of the main players are the reason I stayed with the book, Bernadette.

So perhaps we aren't as far apart on it as it might first seem.

Anonymous said...

I did like this book very much, but I hope that the first 200 or so pages turn out to be relevant in the next one! They had a tacked-on aspect to them. I didn't realise when I read TGWPWF that Larsson had intended to write 10 books, so maybe the start of book 2 introduced a theme that would have been picked up in a future book if it isn't in book 3 (if that isn't too confusing).
I found some of the comic book aspects annoying (the invincible minor character in particular, and the strange coinicidences where L and B kept spotting each other, and the accidental discovery B makes in the toaster near the end, and various other clunkinesses. But I found the end very exciting (unlike almost every other "WIP" (woman in peril) ending I've read - and I found the book as a whole very absorbing. I read it over the Christmas holiday and was very glad not to have to go into work, I basically spent a whole day and a half doing nothing but reading it as I found it so compelling.

For me, the personal circumstances of the author are not important - I could know nothing about the author for all I care - it's the book that's the thing. If anything, it was all the hype over the author himself that slightly put me off the series in the first place.

Uriah Robinson said...

No 2 Fire is a much better book than No 1 Tattoo and the introduction section to Fire might have some relevance to No 3. I am expecting number 3 to be even better than Fire and the more we have of Lisbeth Salander [Pippi Longstocking grown up] the better. She is a character who has gripped people's imagination as I get more hits on my Lisbeth pages which are months old than others.
I do think if Larsson had lived the books might have been edited down a bit.

Sunnie Gill said...

Maxine, I hope so too, it was so much information that didn't seem to matter.

Although I do get a sense of the author being perhaps slightly obsessive about details. Whenever a character uses a different computer we are told which model, the size of the hard drive and other information.

Uriah, I also hope that introduction does have relevance in No 3. Although if it does, would any of us remember that much detail?

I do find the character of Salander intriguing. I don't think there's every been one quite like her.

traintalk said...

After reading the first book, I thought Salander was universal and a new paradigm that might explain how good people could come out of tough backgrounds. The second book changes that view, particularizing it and making Salander less identifiable with and the reader, while having more data with which to understand her, must wonder more about the translation and things Swedish.