Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest: A Fully Satisfying Conclusion to Stieg Larsson's 'Millennium' Trilogy

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest is the final book in Swedish writer Stieg Larsson’s ‘Millennium’ trilogy, after The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire. A finer, more satisfying dénouement to the mystery series would be hard to imagine.

Having now finished all three books, which revolve around Lisbeth Salander, an angry and highly antisocial young woman who has been horribly mistreated by the Swedish legal and medical systems, and her friend and protector, crusading investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist, I can only add more bouquets of effusive praise to what I wrote about the first two novels. Suffice it to say that the concluding ‘Millennium’ novel, in a series which had already managed to touch on everything from Sweden’s vicious sex trade to the country’s past flirtation with Nazism to the prevailing sexist atmosphere in most of that nation’s major institutions, among many other subjects, widens the scope even further by unveiling a political and constitutional scandal that makes Watergate look like a minor kerfuffle. (This is not a spoiler as much of this was revealed in the previous two books, particularly in The Girl Who Played With Fire). And The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest does all this without ever losing the thread of the unique, moving but unsentimental relationship between Salander and Blomkvist. It literally picks up minutes after the exciting conclusion of The Girl Who Played with Fire when – SPOILER ALERT – Salander confronts her vicious father, a Soviet double agent who defected to Sweden, with dire results. That confrontation rips the lid off many a long-held secret as the chickens -- namely, the revelations behind the myraid injustices endured by Salander -- finally come home to roost.

Larsson (or his editor) also includes a few salient footnotes that enhance the books’ overarching storyline by explaining some of Sweden’s recent, turbulent history, incidents that have an impact on the events depicted in The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest. Those notes touch on the controversial issue of the public’s negative reaction to the presence of refugees who have fled to Sweden to the mystery surrounding the assassination of Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme in 1986 and the murder of Anna Lindh, the country’s Foreign Minster in 2003. The political parallels to the United States are stunning, which may be one reason these books are so popular there.

Stieg Larsson
Of course the series is also beloved around the world and understandably so. Simply put, the ‘Millennium’ books are as good as popular entertainment can get, written by an author on par with Michael Chabon and Stephen King, two other writers who have successfully melded high and low culture, utilizing traditional genre tropes to make larger, encompassing and meaningful statements about society at large (check out Chabon’s brilliant Pulitzer Prize-winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and King’s gripping Under the Dome). In that light, it’s such a shame that ‘Millennium’ creator, Stieg Larsson, who died of a heart attack six years ago at age 50, is no longer with us. I would have liked to read more books in the series, which he originally planned to extend through ten books. I think he was a good enough writer that this is one saga that would not have dried up or become clichéd.

There’s a remote possibility that a fourth ‘Millennium’ novel will emerge, as a good part of it was found on the hard drive of Larson’s computer after he died. Nonetheless, the trilogy is not likely to disappear quickly from the public consciousness. The Swedish film adaptation of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s comes out in North America in October, hopefully topping the middling two earlier films in the series. And then, next year, the first of the Hollywood adaptations will debut, directed by David Fincher (Zodiac, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), the forthcoming The Social Network, scripted by Steve Zaillian (Schindler's List) and starring Daniel ‘James Bond’ Craig as Blomkvist and little known actress Rooney Mara (ER, The Social Network) as Salander. I’m not a big fan of Craig but Fincher has become one of Hollywood’s most provocative directors in recent years so this American version could work. Even if it doesn’t, at least the wonderful books will continue to be sold, particularly as a tie – in to the Fincher movie – undoubtedly reaching even more readers than they have already. Thus, the trilogy will still be a reminder and an exemplar of a fine writer who left us much too soon.

-- Shlomo Schwartzberg is a film critic, teacher and arts journalist based in Toronto. He'll be teaching a course on significant contemporary film directors this fall at Ryerson University's LIFE Institute.

1 comment:

  1. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest by Stieg Larsson is the best in the trilogy, though the first one was also extremely interesting, it's only the second which appeared slightly outlandish to me