I read the first third of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (the last in the trilogy) directly off the heels of the first and second books a couple years ago, but then lost interest. I started the final book over for CBR 6, but I was still a little worried that I’d forgotten too much of the story (or the sometimes-very-Swedishly-named characters) to jump right back in.
The only thing I’d really forgotten was that Stieg Larsson was the king of brief recaps—so many of the characters talk about things that just happened that it’s almost impossible to get lost, even for dyslexic people like me who read really slowly and don’t sound out the Swedish words. Larsson undoubtedly made up fascinating and complex stories with interesting characters, but he was sometimes a bit too heavy-handed and detailed in his text. Maybe that’s a cultural difference, or maybe it’s because Larsson was primarily a journalist, or maybe I just have a shitty attention span after reading too many dystopian young adult novels.
But I mean… do we REALLY need to know what every single character wore to work? Or how they payed for their hotel? Or what Mikael Blomkvist ate for lunch? (Spoiler alert: it was coffee and sandwiches. It’s ALWAYS coffee and sandwiches. Like maybe I could get behind describing the guy’s every meal if he ate anything BUT coffee and freaking sandwiches; he doesn’t.)
And as long as I’m ranting, can we talk about this? Hardened investigative journalist and author Stieg Larsson was clearly a feminist, as is his hardened investigative journalist protagonist, Mikael Blomkvist. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy is about thorough badass Lizbeth Salander, and not just about her relationship with Mikael, either: about her entire life. Her parents, her childhood, her intelligence, her experiences, and how those things came together to pretty much rock Sweden. The trilogy is basically about guys who mistreat women getting their rough comeuppance. Or of you like, it’s about a woman who’s been mistreated her whole life getting absolute revenge on her abusers. Many minor antagonist are sort of casually described as sexist women-haters. Like, they’re dishonest, or incompetent, or murderers, but just in case we don’t fully hate them yet, they also think all women are lying whores, or some shit.
And yet… Mikael sleeps with all the women. And of course it’s always totally consensual and happy, and DAMN GOOD because he’s a total stud, but he bones practically everyone–he has at least six sex partners who are major characters, and more are implied. Actually, upon further analysis I realized he only sleeps with the women that Larsson physically describes. Mikael actually works with several women, and the only one who gets a description is the one he’s banging. And the only women with descriptions he DOESN’T bang are lesbians or his sister.
How should I feel about that?
I’m trying to decide if Larsson made Blomkvist a sex magnet because he felt like the character needed to be the kind of guy that all the girls wanted. Maybe Mikael got lots of ladies to prove that feminist guys are desirable, or to give legitimacy to Lisbeth’s attractiveness. Or maybe Larsson gave Blomkvist many sex partners as some kind of wish fulfillment, since his character had the same profession, the same ideals, and about the same physical traits as Larsson? Or maybe Larsson WAS an actual sex fiend and wanted to make his fictional character as like him as possible? Or maybe the only way he could display his approval of women being in charge of their own sexuality was to have them all throw their panties at the same guy?
I don’t feel great about any of these scenarios.
Furthermore, the relationship between Blomkvist and Salader is complicated. He saves her a bunch, in varying degrees. To be fair, she saves him a couple times too. And Mikael was in pretty bad shape, professionally, at the beginning of the series, and Lisbeth helped him win a few major journalistic battles he couldn’t have managed alone. But he saves her both more often and (usually) in more dire situations. But she also doesn’t always need saving—even if Mikael never came around, Lisbeth would probably have survived and escaped just fine, but in this last book, he helps her win in what we’re meant to think is the complete and correct way—which is both the way Lisbeth has never operated before, and the way she couldn’t accomplish alone.
And it also bothers me that Lisbeth sort of falls for him (as do all the ladies), and then gets really jealous and hurt that he’s boning someone else (because of course he is), and like, swears him off because he broke her heart. And then Mikael tries a hundred times to get back into her life, and finally says fine, I’ll leave you alone because I’m an upstanding guy who can take a hint. And then at the end of the series he saves her, and then shows up at her house (which would be overstepping it for most women, but for Lisbeth it’s hugely invasive—even her closest friends don’t know where she lives) and basically says, “I know you never want to see me again, and I said I wouldn’t bother you, but I have to tell you something, and I BROUGHT BAGELS!” And she’s like, well, OKAY, you good-looking sonofabitch.
He’s not there for sex, but still.
The most generous way we could label their relationship is “partnership”—and that’s awesome, from a feminist perspective, because the whole point is that we get the furthest TOGETHER. It just bothers me that Lisbeth becomes more and more like Mikael, and his character stays pretty much the same throughout the series. Mikael’s not a bad guy, but he doesn’t learn any lesson, which implies he already knows everything important. Lisbeth, however, learns a lot, mostly about herself, and changes a lot, often at her own discomfort. We are supposed to think that her character transformation is good, and that she’s becoming more complete, and even “normal.” It’s unsettling.
Anyway. Like I said, the trilogy is complex, and well-planned, and often very exciting, even if you sometimes have to read about every single thing Lisbeth bought at the grocery store (spoiler alert: frozen pizza). The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest has the least action of the trilogy, but everything falls into place in an interesting (if slightly unsettling) way. You could do a lot worse.