The Swedish Girl Who Got Into Trouble: A (Book) Review

At the end of last month, I picked up Stieg Larsson‘s The Girl Who Played With Fire. This is book number two in the Millennium Series. Like it’s predecessor, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Fire focuses on the lives of Mikhail Blomkvist, a well-known investigative reporter, and Lisbeth Salander, a young, computer-savvy misanthrope. 


Much to Salander’s dismay, she goes from relative obscurity to the target of a national manhunt in the effort to arrest the murderers of three people: an investigative journalist working on a book about human sex trafficking that worked for Millennium with Blomkvist, his girlfriend – a graduate student writing her graduate thesis on sex trafficking, and Salander’s perverted legal guardian. Fire keeps you turning page after page as you follow Salander and Blomkvist in their efforts to untangle the mess that is the murders and Salander’s horribly abusive past.


What is great about Fire is its gripping, intricate storyline. And for once, we start to understand more about who Lisbeth is and what happened in her past. There were illusions to some of these answers in Dragon Tattoo, but Fire lays the crumbs throughout the novel, giving us insight bit by into young Salander.

The big miss with this series is the continued focus on the objectification of women as sexual, readily-abusable objects as well as passages that describe perverted rape scenes in graphic detail. As a woman, I find this to be unnecessary. Larsson used this device more than once in each book. And while he may have tried to make up for it by showing Salander to be a strong woman, both physically and mentally, the revenge scenes never seen to satiate me. Yes, they’re clever in some cases, but aren’t equal in detail or length to the rape scenes. Even if they were, I don’t believe I would still be satisfied. I found these parts of the story to be revolting and down right degrading to the point where I’m not sure I can justify purchasing the third novel. 


Buy/borrow it: if you like page-turner crime novels, swedish fiction, character driven plot lines

Avoid it:if you you despise graphic rape scenes


[Thanks to Pesky Library for making the image available for use.]

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2 thoughts on “The Swedish Girl Who Got Into Trouble: A (Book) Review

  1. First, let me say that I'm not trying to argue with you at all. I think your concerns and criticisms of the books and the films are completely legitimate and valid. I just find the books fascinating and enjoy talking about them. :)I think that Larsson's intention with these books, whether or not it was successful, was not to degrade women but to raise concerns about the issue of misogyny and violence against women. (Well, his primary intention may have been to write page-turning novels that would sell well and make lots of money, but you know what I mean.)The literal translation of the Swedish-language title of the first book is not "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" but "Men Who Hate Women," which is much starker, and this issue is reflected not only in Lisbeth's personal experiences early in that book but in the truth behind the murders (and behind Harriet's disappearance) that Mikael and Lisbeth discover later. Larsson was himself a "crusading liberal journalist." I think his intention was to some degree to shock and sicken readers, and perhaps in so doing to raise awareness about issues of rape and misogyny. In other words, I think that he was arguing not that women are "sexual, readily-abusable objects" but that our male-dominated society often views women that way and treats them that way, and that this is a deeply ingrained illness of modern society. In the third novel, a character says, "When it comes down to it, this story is not primarily about spies and secret government agencies; it’s about violence against women, and the men who enable it."I definitely think it can be argued that he went too far, that it backfired, that the imagery in his novels is too vile to achieve his intended goals and that it dehumanizes women rather than vilifies the men who commit these vile acts, or that his goals aren't supported enough by Lisbeth's actions and other elements of the plot. It's been very interesting to me seeing how different people react to the books and the films. To me, Lisbeth is a fascinating heroine and a great character, and part of what makes her so compelling and complex is that on one hand it is fun to root for her and satisfying seeing her avenge acts of violence against women, but on the other that her existence is tragic, that she is permanently emotionally damaged (though still undoubtedly very strong) as a result of the violence she has suffered, and that in a better world, we wouldn't need a hero like her, and she would have been free to live a normal, happy, healthy life.Thanks for posting your thoughts! I love a good book discussion! 🙂

  2. Caro! Thank you so much for the thoughtful comment!When I discovered that his first novel's real title was "Men Who Hate Women," it seemed more appropriate. The current English title makes little or no sense in the context of the novel as a whole.And I think you're right – that Larsson wanted to highlight misogyny and violence against women as being completely abhorrent. For me, I do believe that he missed the mark. And I'm not sure that any amount of well-thought out revenge would make it right. Now, there's a lot more talk of human trafficking in the media and with NGOs – highlighting the issues there. It just didn't quite work for me in this novel.I, too am a fan of Salander's character. She's super smart, very independent, and endlessly strong. While I like her as a character, I don't find her to be realistic as a person. And maybe that's where I'm having a little trouble with this novel too – it's a novel, but it walks into real life territory and there's a place in between the two that I find to be muddled and frustrating. Not that the novel isn't interesting, not that it's not a real page-turner, it's just that I'm finding myself a little put-off by some of the things I mentioned above.I love a good book discussion too! :bookclub:

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