This article is previously published in doc2doc.bmj.com
Stieg Larssson’s trilogy were sold over 12 million copies worldwide, when the sales of the first novel was initially expected to reach only at least 10.000 copies.
The trilogy was never meant to be read separately, as Larsson himself completed the three books before handing them to his publisher. This is a trilogy, which I assure you, must be read back to back whenever our busy schedule in medicine permits us.
The first novel was endlessly going through the intricate crime and business plots, interrupted by striking descriptions of abuse and rape, and only hurriedly showing the characters who they really are. Lisbeth Salander felt distant, distrustful, foreign, and barely human (although she still had romantic involvement with Blomkvist); but then again maybe that’s how Larsson wanted her perceived in the first novel.
The novel definitely showed characters that are impressive in their integrity, individuality and imperfections. Instead of succumbing to the terror of her rapist, she came back for revenge and left a souvenir for him, a tattoo marked on his chest that says “I’m a pervert, a sadistic pig, and a rapist.”
Interestingly, as a female reader, I found Larsson’s overboard fantasy of a womanizer-Blomkvist (a man who could seduce any women to sleep with him) is unrealistic and disturbing. And I can inform you here that Blomkvist character is an alter ego of Larsson (as described by his colleagues), where his sexual and romantic charm are perhaps the projection of Larsson’s own wish. I still appreciate however, Blomkvist’s admiration towards women with strong characters.
The second novel, “The Girl Who Played With Fire” tells the story of three murders interlinked with sex trade and how Lisbeth tries finding a person from her past. Separate investigations run parallel with one another, with different sets of investigators each with their own motives. This time Lisbeth is more determined than ever to pursue her own agenda of personal revenge.
“The Girl Who Played With Fire” is definitely showing so much more of Lisbeth Salander. While in the first novel she was mostly depicted through her hacking skills, odd look, and lack of connection with other people, the second novel showed more of her real personality. Larsson took the time to describe Lisbeth. Yes she’s highly intelligent, skilful, sexual, independent and powerful. To her friend and occasional lover, she said “I am what I am. … I ran away from everything and everybody”. But this time, she’s also shown as a real person, with real feelings and raw emotions. In her alone time she’s as fragile and frustrated as any other human being.
The novel also introduced another strong female character, Sonja Modig,inspector with the Stockholm police force. An interesting dialogue happened between Sonja and her superior, after she slapped Faste, a male colleague, who had falsely and degradingly accused her of unprofessional conduct towards a female witness:
“I slapped his face. That was enough.”
“You were provoked beyond enduring.”
“Faste has problems with strong women.”
“I’ve noticed that.”
“You’re a strong woman and a very good police officer.”
“But I’d appreciate it if you don’t beat up other staff.”
The title is literal as it is metaphoric of Lisbeth’s experience. And another point is just how seductive and perfect-fitting the titles of each of the novels are. The honest portrayal of emotions: disappointments, hurt, anger, sadness and loneliness of most of the characters is pleasantly realistic.
The first novel shows what Lisbeth did best, the second shows how she felt, and the third novel, “The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest” shows where she came from and how she ended up where she was and how she finally had her closure. This time she’s involved with the Sweden’s Security Police, and had to face the people and institution which had systematically criminalized and abused her since her childhood.
The real protagonists of the trilogy are the women that Larsson created. They’re strong, ambitious, professional, competent, not asking for permission from the men around them, and realistically flawed. Consistently in the trilogy, we’re introduced to these women: an ambitious magazine editor, an internationally successful businesswoman, a PhD candidate investigating sex trade, a student/kick-boxer/performance artist, a talented police inspector, a women’s-rights-activist-turned-criminal-lawyer and an operative of security police.
Indeed Lisbeth Salander is the most memorable and original, if not epic, female character in a crime thriller (or in any kind of fiction I’ve read in the past few years). And instead of making women simply as victims rescued by men (or merely as romantic extension of men), Larsson showed the world as it is today, where many women are also the bad-ass heroes.
Rahajeng. Semarang, 9 October 2010. As published in http://doc2doc.bmj.com