Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson *****

WOW! what a ride! The trilogy ended, leaving me bereft of the rest of the story of Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomqvist...

There were several sub-stories in the 3 books - the various relationships among the characters - but I felt like there were 2 major story arcs. 1st, in book 1, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, there was the mysterious disappearance of Harriet Vanger, ending with what happened to her; then partway through book 1, Lisbeth Salander became the focus of the 2nd arc. The title of the 1st book in Swedish translates to Men Who Hate Women, and that title does apply to both arcs - both Harriet and Lisbeth were targets of men who hate women, and their stories are similar. But once Lisbeth's story started, it eclipsed Harriet and carried through the rest of book 1 and didn't end until the bitter epilogue of book 3.

When the 2nd book ends, we are left with Salander having been buried alive, digging her way out and attempting to kill her father by smashing an axe into his face. She's been shot in the head - and Blomqvist finds her and Zalachenko, both hovering between death and life. It's the first time the Lisbeth and Mikael have seen each other since book 1, when she decided she was in love with him and saw him with Erika. Their paths have crossed electronically many times - and Mikael has tried to contact her in person, but she decided she couldn't live with the pain of letting herself feel love and refused to see him.

She and Zalachenko are both in the hospital - only 2 doors apart, as it turns out - and both fighting for their lives. Lisbeth has had the bullet removed from her brain, but hasn't awakened from the surgery. How Zalachenko managed to survive an axe to the face, I don't know, but it's the survival of daughter and father that push all three books and the 2nd story arc. Both are seemingly invincible, as though that were some kind of gene. In fact, his son, Niederman, is actually invincible in that he has a rare affliction that keeps him from feeling any pain - at all. So maybe it is genetic... It's almost Star Wars/Darth Vader-esque, except that Lisbeth is far from being Luke Skywalker, out to save the world and his mother.

Meanwhile, while Salander and Zalachenko fight for their lives, Blomqvist is out fighting for truth, justice and the Swedish way - he's managed to get into Salander's apartment to use her computer, and is on the verge of unraveling the secret police's dirty secret - the rogue group of covert operators who have spent the past 25 years covering up the trail of death and destruction caused by the man they think is more important than Swedish security, the Russian defector Zalachenko. Piece by piece, their world is uncovered - by Blomqvist, by Milton Security, by the local police and finally by the secret police themselves. It's a story so convoluted and fantastic that I was on the edge of my seat most of the time I was listening to it, and often had to just turn it off and rest. It speaks both to the human flaw of thinking oneself Godlike and above the law and the way we are taught to follow authority : the innermost members of "The Zalachenko Club" are so convinced they know best and are right that they worked themselves into an unsolvable puzzle of how to continue to keep their secrets. They are so convincing in their lies, they manipulate everyone around them into buying into the secrets and the lies and... And the truth is so incredible that Blomqvist had a difficult time getting anyone to listen.

It was very, very intense and so well-thought out, I can't even imagine what Larsson's writing process was like. Did he map out the various schemes and characters, or just write as it came to him?

After the story of Zalachenko ends, the epilogue picks up and slowly ties up the various loose threads - how does one go on after a life that has been spent under the the guardianship of the state, a life spent hating authority and struggling to break free... and is now free? Of course, we are left wanting more. I wondered, since Larsson's plan was to write several books, but only finished 3 before he died, if there was another story cut from the book during editing?

Anyway - wow - great series, must be read in order - incredibly talented narrator, Simon Vance - and I loved both the first 2 movies, and I'm anxiously awaiting the release of the last one!

5 stars

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