I am confident that Stieg Larsson
has a reason for this, but Lisbeth Salander is not much of a heroine. Let's list her transgressions from The Girl Who Played With Fire
(and these will be deliberately out of context):
1. She forces herself on a 16 year old boy in Granada.
2. She kills a man on the beach during a hurricane.
3. She shuts out Blomkvist for a very long time for a perceived slight, giving him no explanation.
4. She fails to take or show the necessary care with her ex-guardian after his stroke.
5. She alienates everyone else who cares about her.
6. She lives off billions that she stole.
7. She invades the apartment of her "guardian" and threatens his life in the middle of the night.
8. She endangers the lives of friends and innocents.
9. She very nearly burned her father to death when she was a teenager.
10. She pulls a gun on the owner of a car rental agency and shuts him in a broom closet to control him.
11. She commits multiple computer violations, including the hacking of government computers.
12. She carries and uses illegal weapons.
13. She is genuinely ultraviolent.
14. She shoots a man in the foot after macing his eyes, and she tasers another in the testicles.
15. She steals a motorcycle.
16. She chops her father's knee and skull with an axe.
17. She is vengeful in a way that makes Edmond Dantès look like a sissy.
Let's face it, Lisbeth is more than a little bit nasty. And taken a step further, it is safe to say that she is not particularly likable. She is cold, calculating, emotionally irrational, mean, detached, abrasive, unapproachable, unfriendly, selfish, mercenary, vengeful, and more than a few other things most of us would classify as unlikable.
Out of context, Lisbeth Salander is the kind of person who most people would be more than happy to see locked up forever. And if all we had to go on were the reports of newspapers and descriptions of trials, we'd all see it as a failure of the "justice system" if she went free.
Yet we cheer for her in the Millenium Trilogy
; we can't seem to help ourselves. And therein lies what Stieg Larsson is trying to tell us with his challenging protagonist -- context is everything.
Larsson isn't simply writing a compelling series of thrillers (and I haven't been so locked into a book, as I was with GWPWF, for a very long time). He isn't simply fishing for a film deal. He isn't just sitting down to write a vapid bestseller. I'd even go so far as to say that Stieg Larsson is not a hack. Nowhere near. He is criticizing the very efficacy of what we so proudly call the "rule of law."
Larsson is suggesting that the "rule of law" fails because it has no room for context. It deals in absolutes (unless you're one of the super-rich or super-influential), and it doesn't give a damn whether you perceived a threat before you lit someone on fire; it doesn't care whether the sixteen year old you're having sex with is mature, in love with you and is totally willing; it doesn't care that you stole the car or killed someone to save a life; it doesn't care that you withheld evidence from the police to protect yourself or someone you love; it doesn't care that you hacked into computers for altruistic reasons; it doesn't care that you were bred to ultraviolence through nature and nurture; it doesn't care about you and it doesn't care about context. It just doesn't care, and because it doesn't care Larsson suggests that we should have a healthy disdain for the "rule of law" and recognize its terrible shortcomings because it is the structure we have to live with whether we like it or not.
Yet with all this, The Girl Who Played With Fire
is -- most importantly -- a cracking read. It is fast paced, cinematic in its noirishness, full of suspense, has a genuine twist or two (one of which actually took me by surprise), a cast of characters it is almost impossible not to love and hate (as the mood takes you) -- even thought they are all rather static -- and it ends with a cliff hanger of the first order (I am guessing this is a problem for some readers, but I am a fan of the cliff hanger).
What a shame Stieg Larsson passed from us so soon. I could have read his books for the rest of my life.