Looking at the task of writing up this, the third book in Larsson’s tragically cut-short series, I feel obligated to sum up not just the book itself—wLooking at the task of writing up this, the third book in Larsson’s tragically cut-short series, I feel obligated to sum up not just the book itself—which I found an exciting and overall solid conclusion to a storyline which was not meant to be here concluded—but what this series has meant to me as a whole. Larsson’s books have, of course, become insanely popular—The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was my store’s No. 1 bestseller two years running—and part of me always balks at being an advocate for something that is already a blockbuster. So instead here are just a few words on why these books have been important to me, from which you can extrapolate whatever larger societal meaning as you so choose.
It’s Lisbeth, obviously. Blomkvist is a totally likable character—if you like clever, determined manwhores, which I apparently do—but these books are really all about Lisbeth. And I love her. I know people have said that they find her to be a man’s fantasy of what a badass woman should be, and this may be partly the case, but if so, Larsson’s fantasy-projection synchs up nicely with my own. Moreover, for all her larger-than-life qualities, I find Lisbeth remarkably realistic—by which I mean, she felt emotionally realistic to me. For all her leather and chains, and her brilliant and calculating plans, Larsson never writes Lisbeth as a robot. She is emotionally vulnerable—as the close of book one so brilliantly and subtly demonstrates. But throughout all three books Lisbeth reacts, and in general carries herself, the way the male heroes in other series do. She, like all those male heroes, is an outsider, is outwardly tough, is someone who has been through an unspeakable trauma but survived. She’s like all those male heroes: but she is a woman, and so for once, she’s mine.
I was recently talking to my father about male and female roles in fiction, and about how much happier I was when I realized that I didn’t have to like Princess Leia best. This was a big moment for me, that I really remember: I was maybe ten or eleven, and I finally realized that I could identify with Han Solo if I wanted to. After that I liked Star Wars a lot more, because my character got all the best lines and the cool ship. In fairness, Princess Leia was given more to do than a lot of female characters, but was I really supposed to think it was so great that she got to choke Jabba with her chain after being humiliated for ages in that metal bikini? I wanted more than that, and I still do.
So for years I liked the male characters best, because male characters actually got to do things and I wanted to do things (and preferably say witty stuff in the process). Men were awesome—and doubly so, in that I could project my fantasy self onto them and enjoy a sexual attraction to them as well, which is a little masturbatory and confusing, but also clearly the reason I so like slash fiction. Ahem. The point here, though, is that since men were who I saw and read about being awesome, they’re who I started writing about being awesome, too. If you read my short stories from high school through college (please don’t), you’ll see that a dude is the main character in almost all of them. I saw guys getting all the cool shit to do, so I gave them all the cool shit to do. What a neat little circle!
It’s only recently that I had another oh! moment like I did when I was ten. Too many factors conspired for me to pick out one cause, but maybe it was simply a case of the camel’s back finally buckling under some insignificant straw: where were the women? I wanted to read and write about women! How had things gotten to the point where I wasn’t even in my own stories?
If I, and other women like me, don’t write women awesome things to do, chances are no one will. So examples of women getting to take active roles—being smart and competent and maybe even kicking ass—have become even more precious to me. And I’m not talking about the standard female sidekick in the leather bustier. Real characters—the main characters, even. Which, arguably, Lisbeth is. Larsson, in my view, never writes her as “the woman”—he writes her as a person. As the hero.
People have argued that these books’ violence toward women make them unfeminist. I don’t agree: in my view, what Larsson is doing is clearly showing both that violence of this type exists—and will continue to exist if we choose to ignore it—and that it is survivable. These are books where women rescue the men, and perhaps more importantly, where they rescue themselves. The women are the heroes. And so, yeah, in this case, I am happy to advocate for something that is already insanely popular. If characters like Lisbeth—if women in central, heroic roles—can seep into the collective subconscious the way Han Solo and hundreds of years of male heroes sunk into mine, then maybe the next girl (or boy) growing up won’t have to have some big revelation about how she can write women in her stories. She’ll already know....more
I am often asked which of Larsson’s first two novels, this or The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, is better. My standard response is Tattoo, because nothI am often asked which of Larsson’s first two novels, this or The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, is better. My standard response is Tattoo, because nothing in Fire can match the wonder and pleasure of meeting Larsson’s characters, particularly Lisbeth Salander, for the first time. I stand by this answer, although it’s possible that the plot of Salander and Blomkvist’s second outing is even more exciting and suspenseful than the first. Both books are terrific reads, however, and they work wonderfully as a pair. Why should one have to choose?
The third—and last, as Larsson is sadly and prematurely deceased—book in the series doesn’t come out in America until next year, but I got it from the U.K. as soon as it became available. I haven’t started it yet, though—I’m afraid to. I don’t want this story to end....more
Easily my favorite book of the year so far, which I certainly didn’t expect it to be during the first 25 pages, which are all about the Swedish financEasily my favorite book of the year so far, which I certainly didn’t expect it to be during the first 25 pages, which are all about the Swedish financial system. But once you get through that, this becomes a fantastic, can’t-put-it-down thriller grounded in great characters. The way I always describe this book to customers (I sell the crap out of this baby) is: “A disgraced financial reporter and a female private investigator team up to solve the mystery of a young girl who disappeared off an island in the ’60s,” and then I ramble on until they buy it about how awesome these characters are. THEY ARE REALLY AWESOME. Lisbeth Salander, the aforementioned P.I., has already become one of my favorite fictional characters ever, and I am very impressed with Larsson for creating such a complex, fascinating woman. Not to mention that amazing rarity: a novel—and a thriller, no less!—in which the women not only rescue themselves, they rescue the men....more