Saturday, 9 February 2013

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest
Stieg Larsson
London, MacLehose, 2009, 746p

It is always bittersweet to come to the concluding novel in a series. You can't help but want more, and even if there is a film adaptation, you know it probably won't be good enough. In this final part of the Millennium series, there were highs and lows, as Larsson tied up all the loose ends; but for once, I really enjoyed an ending.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest follows on immediately from the last novel, whereas there has been a year break between the first and second. Lisbeth is in hospital, in a critical condition, and under arrest. Zalachenko is within touching distance, and she is frustrated that she is unable to do anything about him. Lisbeth is such a stubborn and proactive character that she finds it impossible to be locked in a small room, left to recover. She wants to get out - she knows that a long prison sentence is facing her.

This novel centres around the trial of Lisbeth Salander - she has many charges against her, including attempted murder and possession of illegal weapons. Luckily, no one seems to know about her skills with technology, so, once she is reunited with an internet connection, she is able to start the search for evidence to prove her innocence.

She also has an excellent team behind her - Blomkvist, Palmgren and Armansky of course, but she now also has Blomkvist's sister, Annika Giannini, who acts as her lawyer, and a number of members of the police force. Unfortunately, she has some powerful people against her: namely an unmonitored section of the state security police who need to destroy her reputation in order to remain in existence - it's kill or be killed, and they are more than prepared to kill. 

I must say that I did not find this novel as gripping as it's predecessors. Larsson had a lot of explaining to do, meaning this final installment is longer than the others. Much of the text was taken up with the discovery of evidence, which made for a slow pace and lots of description. But the resulting trial was fascinating, with Giannini pulling out all the stops to destroy the prosecution. 

I found some of Giannini's tactics particularly interesting, including when she cited her own teenage deviance as evidence to prove Salander had behaved like a normal teenage girl. Giannini's confessions shocked me - in England, it seems you must live like a saint to get into a position of power, such as in law or politics; but in Scandinavia, perhaps they recognise that it is unrealistic to have such high expectations. In any case, the result of assuming sainthood tend to result in the revelation of scandalous cover ups. Even politicians are human.

Again, Blomkvist is irresistible to women, taking on yet another lover. (How does he remember all their names?) Salander spends most of the novel avoiding him - though she is helped by the fact that she is either hospitalised or imprisoned. But he proves himself a loyal and dedicated friend. I would definitely want him on my side.

I commented earlier that I really love the ending of this novel. Often, such long series seem to end abruptly or too romantically and therefore unrealistically. Yes, Larsson tied up all the ends into a nice bow here, but he offered his reader more than the cliche finale. He offered his characters redemption. Within the closing pages, Salander finds herself faced with a choice. As she reflects on her options, we realise how much she has been through, and how far she has come. She is less spontaneous, less violent, more thoughtful. She is more aware of the responsibilities she has to herself and to others, and the consequences of her actions. She does not change beyond recognition - I still love and admire her  - but she has progressed and she has learned. The difference is not explicit, but Larsson offers us this final slice of the pie to mull over after the story ends.

P.S. Rumour has it, there is a manuscript for a fourth novel in the Millennium series out there. We can only dream of such things!!

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