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The Girl Who Played With Fire – Stieg Larsson

January 29, 2011

A little while ago, I wrote that, after considering the opinions of novelist and journalist Edward Docx, my reading of the second installment of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, The Girl Who Played With Fire, would be with great trepidation. This trepidation was rightly bestowed, I think.

Overall, The Girl Who Played With Fire is not a bad novel. The development of the characters, particularly Salander, brings to the second slice of Millennium the depth and reader involvement that The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo sorely misses. Throughout the first installment I distinctly felt the tease of Salander’s superficial character and was not disappointed by the revelations and insights bestowed upon me throughout the second. The plot is far more grounded in reality – a series of crimes that the reader can believe in – is focussed on the title protagonist, and has a great many more twists and turns to keep the reader guessing until the last chapters. In this respect it was a far more challenging and exhilarating read than The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

On the other hand, however exhilarating and challenging the plot may turn out to be, it is very, very slow to get going. 200 pages drag by before any action worth noting occurs and after a brief flurry of excitement, the narrative soon decelerates back to snail pace before building up slowly and tantalisingly to the ultimate climax. Larsson could have contained The Girl Who Played With Fire in much less than the 569 pages that it occupies without losing any dramatic tension; in fact, catching the reader’s attention earlier can only be a good thing. Even the unveiling of the murderer at the end of the novel is anticlimactic, with the focus at that point on Zala and Salander rather than on the unbelievable giant who committed the crimes. Much time seems to be wasted detailing Salander’s escapades the Caribbean, and the couple on whom so much initial focus is placed pale into insignificance rather quickly. Personally, I would have preferred a quicker ascent into the action to engage my attention better.

Aside from the pace of the narrative, the other main problem with Larsson’s construction of The Girl Who Played With Fire is the number of characters that appear throughout the plot. There are just far too many to keep track of and it appears that Larsson lost track a little too as he was writing. At one point, an incorrect name is even used (yes, I noticed). While The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo featured a lot of Vangers, most of them never physically appeared in the novel and the other main players in the narrative were few enough that distinguishing between them was easy. In the second installment, the main players are almost innumerable. When Paulo Roberto’s character was introduced almost halfway through, I sat back a little aghast that Larsson could be introducing another character when the plot was so far advanced already, and especially one whose links with the protagonists are so tenuous and seemingly contrived. However, he slots into the narrative well and his role in the action isn’t so overbearing that his late arrival is particularly conspicuous, so I suppose Larsson gets away with it.

One thing that The Girl Who Played With Fire does have in its favour is the fabulous cliff hanger on which it ends. As the closing chapters rolled past, I found myself reaching for the third and “final” (unless these developments about Larsson’s parter are to be believed) installment of the trilogy ready to jump right in as soon as I finished. This second episode is much better tailored to continuation than The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, which would have worked well standing alone. If The Girl Who Played With Fire had been the ultimate installment of the saga or simply a stand-alone novel, I would have felt infuriatingly frustrated by the way it ends.

If I were to draw a graph charting the rise and fall of my excitement throughout this novel, I daresay that it would compare very much to the way excitement can be charted through any other novel of the crime/thriller genre. One of Edward Docx’s comments was that Larsson’s work is very formulaic but, not being a  connoisseur  of crime fiction, I wouldn’t yet like to pass judgement on this. And so onward I proceed into The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest, with equal trepidation, but also a sense of hope. That the partner of the late Stieg Larsson will not, as has been reported, make any attempt to finish the supposed fourth installment of this saga and will leave it as the author intended. As a trilogy.

Larsson, Stieg [2006] The Girl Who Played With Fire (2009) London: Quercus


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