Monday, January 16, 2012

Book Review: The Girl Who Played With Fire

Book number two of the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy was an epic sequel to the first book that has become so popular in America recently with the release of the movie by the same title.  The second book picks up about a year and a half after the first book ends.  Whereas this kind of time leap is difficult to portray while keeping the story flowing at a reasonable pace, Stieg Larsson did a marvelous job connecting the two stories.  More than once I found myself thinking back to the first book in a moment of revelation in which I finally realized why many of the descriptions of Lisbeth Salander's life and personality were put into the book.

The Girl Who Played With Fire is a riveting crime-thriller that keeps the reader up late at night turning page by page, always engaged in the story that unfolds with every chapter.  Many conflicts that are left unsolved in the first book are resolved in this sequel, but their resolution brings on a whole new set of life-threatening issues.  Many characters who played a minor role in the first book have a much larger role in the second.  Because of this, the character development is continued from the first book into the second book, something that is very hard to do well.  New characters are introduced and the reader finds himself becoming attached to the new characters in the same way that the old characters do within the story.  This makes the reader feel like a part of the story and when two new characters are brutally murdered, one cannot help but take it personally and desire justice on a similar level to that of the other characters in the book.

With the release of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and the increased popularity of it due to the new movie, Lisbeth Salander has become one of the most popular and intriguing fictional heroines in recent literature.  She is such a mysterious and perplexing character to both the other characters in the book and to readers because it is difficult to identify with her all the time.  However, she has such a strong sense right and wrong as well as sturdy rationalization for her actions and beliefs.  This is why readers embrace her.  The Girl Who Played With Fire explains her past and the reader finally finds out what "All the Evil" is, the incident which led to her being institutionalized when she was 12.  What the reader realizes is that they, along with many others within the story, have misjudged Salander whether it be intended or not.  Many sequels do not satisfy the desires of readers to learn more, especially when there is a third book because the author intentionally leaves things unresolved in order to sell the third book.  This second book, though, satisfies the reader's thirst for explanations and solutions while unwrapping new problems that need to be solved in the next installment.

While this book was not as dark as the first (I don't know if there is really anything as dark as the first book), it does have some similarities to it.  For instance, the amount of sex in the book is, in a word, overwhelming.  While the second half of the book is relatively clear of any sexual content, the first half is over-ridden with it at times.  I found myself putting the book down at times because one can only read so much of that kind of material before it becomes too much.  Another similarity is the family conflict that is portrayed in the novel: while the first novel is centered on the search of a missing girl who was a member of one of the wealthiest families in Sweden, this story focuses on Salander's family and the circumstances that surrounded her past.  It does not take the reader long to theorize that Larsson did not have a good family life, or at least did not have a high opinion of the nuclear family, because there are no healthy families in his books.  It is a theme that perhaps reflects the decline of the traditional family in modern culture as more and more marriages end in divorce and more and more children are born out of wedlock.  It is not surprising, then, that his books are so violent and disturbing as there is no family foundation on which their lives could have been built.

This book was a thrilling read and I am very excited to read the final book in the trilogy.  While Larsson has resolved nearly all the conflicts from the first book, new issues and mysteries have been uncovered and will, presumably, be solved in the next book.  A highly recommended read, especially after such a dark beginning to the crime-thriller trilogy.  It keeps the suspense going while easing off of the disturbing material that haunted readers and movie-goers.  Crime-thrillers are among the most entertaining books to read, and Stieg Larsson's trilogy is the most entertaining right now.

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