Monday, January 10, 2011

The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson

Since BHPL is showing the three Swedish films based on Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy, I thought I'd review the second book, The Girl Who Played with Fire. Fire begins with Mikael Blomqvist's magazine about to expose several johns involved in sex trafficking, among them journalists and policemen. Lisbeth Salander is still hacking into Mikael's laptop, and she discovers a connection with her past that draws her into the case.

I've heard other people say the second book/film was even better than the first one (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), and I have to agree. The way Tattoo began made me think it was a financial/political thriller/missing persons case, but the end was a little too creepy for me. Fire unfolds in a more believable fashion than Tattoo, but just was just as compelling to read, and Lisbeth Salander's past makes her a more interesting character this time around. Be warned that you'll want to dive right into The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest once you've finished, since the ending of Fire is a cliffhanger.

There are discussion questions available for all three of Larsson's books. However, those don't address a really interesting point, which is The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo's original Swedish title, Men Who Hate Women. Manohla Dargis's New York Times review of the film version points this out:
“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” was originally published as “Men Who Hate Women,” which apparently wasn’t sexy enough for English-language bookshelves. The title change certainly spices things up, no matter how commonplace body art is, at least outside of Stockholm, and it plays down its overarching theme, which the movie only does further. Just as significant is the substitution in the title of “girl” for “women,” a categorical displacement (and diminution) that also shifts the emphasis from the crime (and criminals) and places it on Salander’s slender back.

It’s an attractive back in the movie, as is the tattoo adorning it, even if, like all the prettily photographed winter landscapes, the dragon covers up something the filmmakers seem loath to reveal and simultaneously eager to exploit.

If you've read the Millennium trilogy, or one of the books in it, what's your opinion about the violence? How do you deal with the fact that you're being entertained by tale whose central plot depends on some very violent acts? Are the books OK but the movies too graphic?

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