Monday, January 25, 2010

The Millennium story is over, boo.

2. The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson (read in the Finnish translation, "Pilvilinna joka romahti", the castle in the sky that came crumbling down)

OK. Jebus. Phew. So.

The last of the trilogy does what such should do: tie the story together and come to a solution of some kind. Instead of using the entire book as a story that would nicely wind down, more heart-racing excitement is in store for those who pick this book up. Larsson is able to do this, as he has created characters that, even when they are extreme and go through "unrealistic" events, still feel very real. Which in turn creates the perfect set-up for a crime novel: in real life good people can get killed. Good people can be punished for what they have not done. It's not enough that the reader knows (by the third book) who the perpetrators are - society does not. And they might not believe the evidence either. The question hovering over this reader's head was thus, holy poop - will he really do it and kill his main characters/have them suffer, just to teach us a lesson?

Again, I feel like I can't go into too much details because it would be way too spoilerish, but the book continues with its line of criticism of media, the simple audience who buys anything that gets printed on paper, corruption and authorities. The main characters in the story are still Mikael Blomkvist and the financial magazine Millennium he works at and Lisbeth Salander, the Asperger-Syndrome-ish hacker. New characters and ones from previous books who seemed to be playing just bit parts are brought back to the final, epic battle. Surprisingly, some former major characters are barely mentioned and do not make an appearance, which also reflects the "life-likeness" of the character flow. Of course the story itself is massively fantastical, but it is awesome storytelling: Larsson has put all of his personal experiences in working with publishing houses and the police (such as Scotland Yard!) into this fictional story.

Stuff I really enjoyed in the trilogy in general (no plot spoilers):

- everyone drinking coffee all the time. It was so... homey. "Oh hi, officer. I just poured some coffee for myself. Want some?" I just read some message board comments about the book, and so many (non-Nordic people) were complaining how annoying the coffee drinking was, and that it must have been an inside joke because nobody drinks that much coffee. Hello? Scandinavia and Finland are leaders in coffee consumption.  
- nods at other crime novels, even when I had no other idea of them except that "Ooh, this must be a reference to another crime author".
- The way people experienced relationships, especially the physical kind. It just seemed so... healthy. Really open communication between consenting adults. So... Swedish. Also, not as heteronormative as one would think of a best-seller all over the world.
- Characters. Not only did they feel real, they felt all very equal with their strengths and weaknesses. Which brings me to this...

Yo, Quentin Tarantino! If Hollywood sees the need to do a remake of the Millennium movies, you have to direct them/write the screenplay! Nobody else does the "a badly victimized woman decides not to just take it and have someone else revenge her/save her, but plans to get even with no remorse"-stories as well as you do. You get it.

- Back to the equality of characters. Larsson's private life work in anti-racist associations and in organizing a group that aimed to expose neo-Nazi groups in Sweden shows well. All characters are very Swedish, but they are not just the stereotypical blonde, blue-eyed type. Mikael's sister is married to an Italian man. One of the police officers' last name is vaguely Spanish. Miriam Wu is Swedish-Chinese, and we don't find this out until the second book, when her last name comes up. There are immigrant workers who have Phd's but who can only mop floors because that's the only thing they are hired to do. There are police who use racist slurs (and thus set themselves up later for a verbal ass-kicking). The heterogenous future of Sweden is drawn out in a non-finger pointing way. It's just business as usual.

Now I understand my friend's statement upon me picking up the 2nd and 3rd books. "I am envious of you", she said. I asked her why. "Because you get to experience these books for the first time. I wish I could do it again." Yes. I already miss the feeling of getting to know these characters and being surprised, appalled and exhilarated by their behavior and the turn of events. I definitely want to read these a second time, but it won't of course be the same...

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