If you are looking for a good book to wrap up your summer reading, allow me to recommend three: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. Also known as the Millennium Trilogy, these books by Stieg Larsson are a great collection of crime novels whose best feature is the heroine Lisbeth Salander.
I introduced Lisbeth to most of you last month in my review of the first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. She is mysterious and harsh, not just in appearance, but also in attitude, and chooses to silently exist within the margins of society. Her actions in this first book define her as a feminist, a heroine, and a survivor, but as the story unfolds we’re immediately aware that there is more to this girl than what appears on the pages of this book.
Larsson’s second book, The Girl Who Played with Fire, is what I consider to be his actual unveiling of Lisbeth’s character. Her feminist passion, her reactionary (often violent and avenging) handling of situations, her distrust of society and authority, and the callous attitudes of others toward her, are all exposed in this book. Larsson ends this book with our heroine so beaten down and vulnerable by such exposure that our emotional commitment to Lisbeth has us anticipating the third and final book before we’ve even finished the second.
In the final book, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, Larsson handles much of Lisbeth’s fate in an uncharacteristic way. For most of the book Lisbeth is somewhat powerless. She has been weakened by her adversaries and removed from many of her resources of strength. Helpless, she’s forced to do something her survival instincts have trained her not to do – trust people. Luckily for Lisbeth, there are people who believe in her and who care about her. And their systematic scheme to save her must fall exactly into place in order to bring her to the redemption she deserves.
I have to admit, I found the final book a bit disappointing. After all the character development and suspense of the first two books, the third book seemed inconsistent and a bit sluggish for me. I didn’t like seeing Lisbeth, who before was so strong and indomitable, left vulnerable and dependent on others to “rescue” her. It seemed out of character for her and definitely out of character for the development of a feminist heroine. I wonder if Larsson had checked his feminism at the door and felt that he still had to put Lisbeth, a young woman, in her place. Or perhaps it was the idea that no one, male or female, including Lisbeth Salander, can exist in a vacuum and no matter how much we think that we can survive on our own, the very nature of society being a complex system of human lives makes it necessary at times to depend on each other to survive. In the end, Larsson brings Lisbeth back to her true character and she does tie up some loose ends with her family on her own – kicking butt once again and nailing things down, so to speak. Lisbeth has the chance for redemption, but with this redemption, will life forever be changed for her? And if so, how much will it change Lisbeth? A fourth book is rumored to be in the works that may answer these questions.
Overall, the Millennium Trilogy is a great series for those who enjoy crime novels and suspense thrillers. But mostly, it’s an excellent portrayal of a feminist heroine in a genre where women are not often portrayed in such a way. Please join the Women’s Center, UMKC Libraries, and the LGBTQIA Resource Center this fall at our book discussions as we examine Lisbeth Salander and her role as a feminist heroine. Even if you’ve only read one or none of the books, it will be a great discussion on feminism, crime, and violence against women.