Nombeko Mayeko is born into poverty in Soweto during the Apartheid era. From childhood, she has worked as a latrine emptier. Despite a lack of formal education, she is a maths prodigy and possesses considerable street smarts. Through a series of unlikely events, she ends up in Sweden in possession of an atomic bomb. Here her life continues together with Holger 2, the non-existent (at least as far as the authorities are concerned) twin of Holger 1, a radical republican who wants to bring down the monarchy.
Because of its nature as a sequence of very unlikely, but nevertheless often humorous events, the story requires a complete suspension of disbelief, and is perhaps best read as a naif satire combined with situational comedy. The book is written in a very dry humor that turns what would normally be sad or infuriating situations into laugh-out-loud farces.
The characters are quirky, interesting and, while most are just as unlikely as the story, deeply charming. Even “The Idiot” and his girlfriend “The Angry One” engage the reader in their adventures.
On a deeper level, the story can be seen as a triumph of human ingenuity over adversity, with themes touching on how people will continue to seek a normal existence and happiness no matter what is thrown at them.
The final novel in the Millennium trilogy concludes the story begun in Flickan som lekte med Elden (The Girl who Played with Fire) and ties up the Salander arc started in Män som hatar kvinnor (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). The novel picks up right after the dramatic events surrounding the encounter between Zalachenko and Lisbeth Salander. Salander is arrested and spends most of the time in isolation, first in hospital and then in prison. At the same time Blomkvist and his cohorts work to set things straight, proving how the state has committed crimes against her and in the process unraveling a conspiracy deep within the Swedish secret police.
Despite the fact that much of the book consists of spy-novel maneuvering and exposition of past events, it is a total page turner, especially the second half. The suspense as good guys and bad guys try to outmaneuver each other is gripping and masterfully written. The character development of Salander is interesting, particularly her slow realization (helped along by her attorney and others) that if she wants the people around her and the state to consider her a competent adult she has obligations towards these people and the state. The state especially has repeatedly betrayed Salander, and she is thus understandably suspicious of the concept.
Due to the death of Stieg Larsson and the legal disputes surrounding his estate, we may never see the nearly finished fourth novel or six additional novels which he allegedly planned. A shame, perhaps, but the three published works are still rather neatly tied up. And in this way Larsson’s legacy will not be diluted. He will forever be remembered as a novelist at the top of his game, with no slow decline to mar the image.
For the record, I read it in the original Swedish.
The sequel to Män som hatar kvinnor (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) has a slow start. At the newspaper Millenium, new collaborator Dag Svensson is preparing a big exposé on trafficking. A number of policemen, judges and other prominent individuals will be named as having had liaisons with underaged sex slaves. Out of the blue, Dag and his domestic partner are brutally murdered. Lisbeth Salander’s legal guardian (she is declared incompetent) and torturer from the first book is also murdered with the same gun. Lisbeth Salander has just returned to Sweden and, through a series of unfortunate coincidences, finds herself wanted for the murders. The story then follows the police investigation as well as the actions of Lisbeth and journalist Michael Blomkvist. There is a lot of deep diving into Lisbeth’s mysterious background.
While Män som hatar kvinnor (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) was a relatively self-contained story, this one is much more wide ranging. The ending does not neatly tie up all loose ends, but distinctly leads into the next novel. The excuisitely crafted character of Lisbeth Salander is further explored, and while Blomkvist was the focus in the first novel, she is very clearly the center of this one. One of the more prominent themes is how society dismisses and discriminates against people with alternative lifestyles. Several of the policemen are extremely resistant to taking Lisbeth (allegedly a bisexual) and Miriam Wu (an ostentatiously lesbian artist) seriously, especially since they are into fem-rock of the darker variety with alleged satanist influences. The mainstream press is no better than the police, feeding the masses with shock headlines instead of reporting the facts. An interesting indictment of the mainstream which rings very true.
I enjoyed this novel almost as much as the first one. The second half is a real page turner. However the story feels a bit more contrived and there is a lack of focus in the first half. A lot of setup, if you will. Still, even if it didn’t satisfy as much as the first one it is very good stuff.
Since I am Swedish, it seems somewhat odd that I seem to be the last person to have read Stieg Larsson’s wildly successful Millennium trilogy. I have finally gotten around to it, starting of course with the first novel. For the record, I read it in the original Swedish.
The novel has two protagonists, middle-aged muckraker journalist Mikael Blomkvist and twenty-five year old sociopathic hacker genius Lisbeth Salander. Blomkvist is hired to dig into a forty-year old murder mystery by an old industrialist. Salander is a researcher, expert at finding the dirt on people, who becomes involved in the investigation. What they finally find is shocking beyond their wildest expectations.
I am often irrationally suspicious when an author becomes universally acclaimed by both critics and public, and this is perhaps why it took me so long to get around to reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. But I also do not mind being proven wrong. This novel is certainly one of the finest I have read in a long time. The characters are deep, interesting and “different”. They do not fit any preconceived molds but are very real and believable. Salander especially is a very peculiar character to say the least, but Larsson adeptly makes her plausible and even sympathetic. This even though she certainly is not a sympathetic person by any normal definition. She is almost the comic relief versus Blomkvist’s straight man in a twisted sort of way. The story is excellent, but the book is at heart a character study of the two protagonists. And that is the key to its genius.
The pacing is not perfect, faltering a bit in the slow middle part, but overall it is very good. The story itself is complex without being hard to follow, supporting the plot perfectly. The device of the age old mystery of Harriet’s disappearance set against the backdrop of the intricacies of Vanger family politics is simply superb. And even when you think it is all over, over a tenth of the book is left, with a very extended epilogue that is still satisfying, possessing the same page-turning quality as the rest of the book. The language is elegant without being pompous, with clever turns of phrase in support of the story but never for their own sake.
One thing I do wonder about, and which is not really a reflection on the book’s merit, is how a person without any Swedish background experiences the novel. Many behaviors, locations and situations are so very Swedish that they would seem hard to translate. I guess I will never know.