Book Review: The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson

The Girl Who Played With Fire By Stieg Larsson - Header

So I was first introduced to The Millennium Series and Lisbeth Salander by watching the 2011 Hollywood remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. A film that originally gripped me so strongly that I went out and brought a paperback of The Girl Who Played With Fire, longing to know how the story continued, yet it is has taken until now to finally get around to reading it.

I spoke in my review of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park that as I associate the characters so strongly with the movies that reading the book, no matter what description was given, I saw the on screen actor and not the literacy incarnation when picturing the story in my mind. And while the same is slightly true, Salander was Rooney Mara, Blomkvist Daniel Craig, I didn’t hold the images as strongly in my mind, or over any other character. I think because I haven’t returned to the film as much as I have with Jurassic Park for instance, the images weren’t as cemented in my mind and the world allowed to be that little bit more fluid and engrossing as it developed in the book.

The Millennium Series by Stieg Larsson

Turning to the story, having originally longed to know how it continued, there is absolutely no way I could have predicted where it was going to go or what twists and turns are used to drive the plot forward. While the book follows on from the original, bringing just enough characters back to keep that sense of flow from one to the other, it’s plot is totally unique and totally independent. There are small amounts back story, recounting previous events, to help paint a picture of the links between the characters, but you could easily read it on its own. To start in the middle as it were. And not be confused by who, what or why anything was going on.

Sadly though, while the story is easy enough to follow, it felt for the majority very superficial and at times far fetched, ludicrous and implausible. Also, you never really get under the skin of any of the characters. You’re told how they are feeling, or how they are reacting to certain situations but you never really feel it. I was never truly convinced by the words used to describe every situation, they just seem too observational, and lacking in passion. Don’t get me wrong though, it was certainly a page turner, I spent many a moment when I should have been doing something else, just finishing a section or pushing for the end of a chapter, but it was more about not wanting to leave an event half finished, the cliff hanger of what happened next so to speak, rather than an physical connection to a character or closure to an emotion stirred within.

Too Many Ideas - The Girl Who Played With Fire

As I said the plot and the events of the story, become more and more wild the longer it goes on. Characters crop up in the most unlikely and impossible ways, and events unfold that just lack the tension or excitement of the first book, because you start to question whether it could really happen as it apparently does. Also, it takes a while for really gain a sense of direction with any clarity. A lot of nothingness happens before you ever really feel like you’re being presented the actual story and when it does start to come to life, twisting all the strands it’s opened up into an interesting, thrilling web, it never really picks up the pace. It never feels slow as the writing style, married to the ability to change view point between characters when needed, allow the story to always feel like it’s in motion, it just a case that there are times when that motion seems cyclical and covering previous ground through a new set of eyes. These parts, teamed to the opening padding means that looking back I would question whether a sizeable amount of the book is really needed. The story can just about handle this slight bloating because when it really matters, when the story really needs to focus, it truly does. It’s just a shame it takes such a long breath to get there.

For all it’s minor problems, I do have a major one though. The number of characters and the development of Salander. The story needs them to allow for all the layers it wants to use, but it meant that as the story turned the final corner, we’d been introduced to so many people, some old some new, that things were starting to get hard to follow as to who exactly was who, where they came from, and how it all fitted together. There were numerous times where I’d lose the connection of name to face in my mind and have to spend that extra split second trying to remember which side people were exactly on. And what agenda they were all playing. Also Salander seems to develop into a almost mythical genius of unmatched superiority, capable of anything and everything as needed. She just seems to become a little bit to naratively good to be true.

Stieg Larsson

Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s not the best book I’ve read, but it’s far from the worse and whilst the ending is a little weak, partly because I feel it’s leaving a few doors open to roll into The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, and partly because I think Stieg Larsson just gave himself too many ideas to be able to tie them all up satisfactorily. I am sure though, that it’s not as interesting as the first introduction to Lisbeth Salander, and I fear from the tone and sensations of how it seems to want to move forward, that the third book will fall shorter again. I’ve enjoyed reading it, I’d be interested to see how the Swedish film compares to it, and I will as some point complete Lisbeth Salander’s story. It’s just not warmed me up to her world anything like as much as the Hollywood film did originally.

Posted on by 5WC in Book First Edition

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