In The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, the third installment in Stieg Larsson’s Milennium Trilogy, all of our questions are finally answered about Lisbeth Salander. Here we learn what “All the Evil” was that she alluded to earlier on, and what that has to do with the fact that a highly secret and secretive government organization would prefer to have her dead than alive.
Lisbeth spends the first 300 or so pages in a hospital bed recovering from a bullet wound to the head, which she received at the end of The Girl Who Played With Fire. While she recovers, Mikael Blomkvist (who was sleeping with her in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but who hasn’t been in her presence since) conducts his own investigation, and enlists his sister to represent Lisbeth in court. A host of others who find something redeemable about this girl with the photographic memory come to her aid: computer hackers from around Europe, members of the security firm who formerly employed her, and her former guardian—now recovering from a stroke—who was among the few human beings Lisbeth could trust.
Sound confusing? It is. And it gets even more confusing. In fact, the convolutions are noted even by characters in the book. At one point, one of the secret operatives turns to another and says, “this whole story has so many different threads and connections….” Later, the truth of Lisbeth’s plight is deemed a bit improbable, and an investigator admits, “I know. It’s the stuff of a spy novel.” That it is. Sometimes Spy v. Spy.
So, we have a secret organization operating within the secret police, whose activities are largely unknown to the people in charge of the secret police, running around protecting their own interests by committing murder; we have the police investigating crimes supposedly committed by Lisbeth Salander, but becoming more and more aware that those crimes make no sense; we have journalists—spearheaded by Blomkvist—writing Lisbeth’s “improbable” story on a fast and furious schedule so as to coincide with her trial for murder; and…oh shoot! It’s almost too much to keep up with.
But wait! There is also a subplot involving Erika, the woman whom Blomkvist sleeps with (with her husband’s approval—only in Sweden!), who has a new job at a large Swedish newspaper—and a stalker. Lisbeth comes to her aid and ferrets out the person who is determined to destroy Erika’s reputation by placing her sex tapes on the internet. But I gather that, in Sweden, that would merely have made her more popular!
The book comes to a rousing climax at the trial of Lisbeth, where Annika—her lawyer and Mikael’s sister—brilliantly unveils the secret organization at the same time all of the bad guys are being rounded up by good guys. When all is said and done, the secret of Lisbeth’s incarceration in a mental hospital is made public, and she finds herself free for the first time since “All the Evil” that happened when she was 13.
I found this book the hardest to get through, precisely because it became so complicated and involved more and more characters (all of whom Larsson found necessary to give us exhaustive background information about). However, I found the trial to be a compelling ending to this series, which made all of the frustration in the previous 400 pages worth while. Almost.
Part of the fun about reading Larsson ‘s trilogy is learning about how an author thinks, and it is clear that—having invented this totally unique character, Lisbeth Salander—he felt he had to explain her in some way, to help us understand how environment might have messed up a child to whom nature had given such gifts. He felt obligated to us, perhaps; but sometimes people should just be left to their own uniqueness and we should just be allowed to marvel at them. Having all the answers can somehow destroy the mystery.
How many of us have all the answers about people we have been married to for decades? Very few I would imagine. And that’s as it should be. That’s perhaps why we still can find them fascinating.
Hornet’s Nest was one of the most popular books in the United States after its release, and I can only imagine it might have been so because it deals with government run amok, and the fear that many in this country have that this is what is happening in the United States. Perhaps. But as a conclusion to the marvelous story of Lisbeth Salander, a woman who touched us deeply in the first installment, it ends more with a whimper than a bang.
But the whole experience was, nonetheless, quite a trip!
Copyright 01/10/2012 Isaac Morris