Wednesday, September 1, 2010

September Book Review Club

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@Barrie Summy

August was such pandemonium that I didn't even post a review. But I did manage to read, because otherwise what is life? And now it's September, and our world begins to creep back toward normal. An excellent time for a good book, right?

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The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest
By Stieg Larsson
Translated from the Swedish by Reg Keeland
Alfred A. Knopf, New York 2010

This review will be short, because I am TERRIFIED that I’m going to spoil the book for someone. And it’s idiotic that I’m reviewing this at all, considering that I did the first two books a year ago.

On the other hand, the third book of Stieg Larsson’s trilogy is the best of the lot, and that’s saying something.

It’s significant that my partner Rob, an avid but normally disciplined reader, totally lost it on this one. Usually he reads for an hour before going to sleep, and it takes him ages to get through a book. I think he finished this one in three days. I arrived home from a day out Sunday to find Mr. Workaholic Painter hunched over the dining room table in the twilight, having been frozen in exactly that place and position since lunchtime. Dinner had consisted of a cheese sandwich. He was 20 pages from the end, and if I had anything to tell him about my day he didn’t want to hear it.

Since you’re obviously a person who reads book reviews, you already know that Larsson is the Swedish investigative reporter, magazine editor, and anti-fascist who died shortly after handing his publisher these three manuscripts. The three were supposed to be the start of a ten-book series, but I’m happy to report that HORNET’S NEST does come to a reasonable conclusion and is not a cliff-hanger. (That was my biggest fear.)

To answer the other question I’ve been hearing, yes, you do have to read the first two first, otherwise this one will make no sense whatsoever. I even had to go back and read the end of the second book just to get my head in the right place. (Maybe that’s a criticism of Larsson’s recapping techniques, or maybe I was just impatient.)

In a Swedish-English translation by Reg Keeland, whose name is on the flyleaf but not the cover, the book is a pleasure to read for the careful language as well--slightly Swedish in flavor (at least to American eyes) but colloquial and unobtrusive.

The weird thing is that this is by no means your typical suspense thriller. Unlike the first two books, which involve the usual amount of people tiptoeing around, getting caught, getting beat up and killed, racing around in mechanized vehicles, and all the rest, this one consists almost entirely of people talking to one another, standing in the shadows watching one another walk around, and using technology to snoop on each other. And yet it’s every bit as exciting as the car chase in “The French Connection.” (Yeah, that’s right, I’m dating myself. Wanna make something out of it?)

Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist return as targets and collaborators, although I don’t think they’re physically in the same room at any time during the action. He is the investigative journalist whose poking around got things moving two books ago. She is the deeply damaged, anti-social, gorgeously goth professional computer hacker Blomkvist brought in to help him in the first book. Over the course of the second, her mysterious past began to take over the story. In this book, it IS the story.

I won’t go into detail, but we find out in this book that every scrap of the abuse Lisbeth suffered in childhood happened for a reason. That reason has national implications in Sweden, and its unraveling is a terrifying example of how fragile democracy can be. Watching how it unravels—who works together, what Mikael and Lisbeth accomplish together and separately—is the most literary satisfaction I’ve experienced since I watched Frodo and friends retake the Shire back in high school.

If this book has a flaw, it’s the same as the first book’s: The main plot concludes with loose ends dangling, and for that reason the book goes on for forty pages beyond what feels like finis. On the other hand, you’re reluctant to let go of Lisbeth, and you know this is the last you’ll see of her. So you’re really not inclined to complain.

Rest in peace, Stieg Larsson. But not for too long—I’m hoping for reincarnation.