Monday, February 14, 2011

The Girl Who Played With Fire: Patience Is A Virtue

There are no two ways about it, The Girl Who Played With Fire is a rather uneven thriller. I slept-read through most of the rather dull first 400 pages and was dreading having to write a blisteringly negative (though likely viewed by most readers as contrarian) review on my iMac G5 with 4 GBs of RAM and a 320 GB hard drive.

It's dull because the hinge for the novel — the murders (not giving away anything here that's not on the cover blurb) of which Lisbeth is accused — doesn't even happen until almost halfway through the book. And so there's nearly 300 pages of scene-setting, including following Lisbeth through a vacation-turned-hurricane-escape in Grenada and then watching as she gets re-acclimated to life in Stockholm. Huh? And then it's dull because there are three separate investigations into the murders, and Stieg keeps repeating details as he tells us about each one. And, finally, it's dull because of the false drama — even though Stieg wants you to, you never really believe that it was Lisbeth who committed the murders

But then everything changed. The turning point for me is the scene in which famous Swedish boxer Paolo Roberto tries to rescue Lisbeth's friend Miriam from the giant blond villain who's right out of James Bond. The reason this particular scene slapped me out of my malaise is simple: It's friggin' hilarious! Paolo sneaks up on the giant, who turns and immediately recognizes him as a celebrity. "You're Paolo Roberto," he says. The absurdity! Not sure why it struck me so funny, but I couldn't stop giggling.

It's probably not coincidental, then, that after that, I was all-in, and Stieg really steps on the gas. As Lisbeth's past secrets are revealed, and the action burns faster, it's tough to put this sucker down. The last third does't quite redeem the first two-thirds, but it's still a fun book. And there's a bit of a cliffhanger at the end to ensure you'll pick up The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest to find out what happens next.

I didn't think this one was as good as The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo in terms of intrigue, but once you wade through the needed-to-be-edited-and-probably-would-have-had-Steig-not-died parts, finding out about what's made Lisbeth Lisbeth is really interesting.

What'd you think? Better or worse than Dragon Tattoo? Bored as I was for most of the novel? 

(Also, can anyone explain what it is that Lisbeth suddenly realized about the x3+y3=z3 equation on page 472? That's really buggin' me!)


  1. Oh jeez! I have both of these on my Kindle now so I know I will be reading them, but I don't think I will be putting these at the top of my list. Glad to hear that you were enjoying it by the end though.

  2. To me this novel was the worst of the three. The bad guys seemed as if they came right out of a comic book. This is the problem with trilogies, the middle book/movie has no beginning and no end.

    In answer to your question, x3+y3=z3 is a famous mathematical equation which has no integer solution (unless one or more of the variables equals zero).
    In my opinion Larsson used this formula to show that:
    1) It is a character builder for Salander as realizes that not everything has an answer.
    2) Everyone (police, welfare, media, etc.) are trying to find a formula to explain Salander - but there is no formula to explain her. Blomkvist is the only one who doesn't try to fit her into a predetermined mold but accepts her for who she is.

    Here is my review of this book:

    1. Your answers re: the maths meaning is pretty vacuous. Sounds like your reaching to give Larsson's writing meaning. Larsson was a terrible writer and only included the maths to give an air of sophistication

  3. When my friend first told me to read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo in October 2008 (right when I'd gotten my first Kindle and was looking for my first ebook to read), she said, "It reads like an IKEA catalog." At that point she hadn't read The Girl Who Played With Fire, which LITERALLY reads like an IKEA catalog. As a result of her comment, that scene where Lisbeth is shopping for furniture really made me laugh.

    Anyway, I can't decide which book I liked best of the trilogy, especially since it's been a while since I finished the last one. I liked the mystery in the first one best (anything with family history and genealogy is up my alley), but parts of it were SO boring (all that business history stuff), whereas the last two are more focused on the crimes Lisbeth is accused of. I'd say they all have their pros and cons, and while I'm not a huge fan of the series as a whole (obviously there are better books out there), I'm glad I read them.

  4. Paolo Roberto is a real boxer, did you know? He made it to the world championship, but he lost to Armand Kranjc.

    Anyway. I only saw the movies, but I liked the second better than the first, because it centers around the most interesting character Lisbeth. I know it's a plot-driven, but Erika, Mikael...they're so tame.

  5. I liked this one better than the first because I didn't feel like I had to work so hard at figuring out what was going on! Plus I liked getting to know Lisbeth more in this one. However, my favorite with the last book in the trilogy.

  6. @Ben,

    Paolo Roberto played himself in the movie.

  7. @Jo-Jo - They're still definitely worth reading for mindless fun. I'll be interested to hear your take.

    @Man - Thanks for the additional insight - enjoyed your analysis. Larsson makes pretty clear what the equation is, but I'm curious about what it is that Lisbeth suddenly realizes as she's sneaking up towards the farmhouse. It was a very strange scene, and obviously has some additional meaning, but I'll be damned if I understood it.

    @Katie - Ha! Yeah, that shopping scene is ridiculous - as is every scene where she goes grocery shopping to buy Billy's Pan Pizza. Lots and lots could've been edited out in that vein. You're right - there are better books out there. I'm reading partly to find out what all the hype is about, partly because I like the occasional mindless thriller, and partly because I keep hearing great things about the Swedish movies, and want to read the books before watching them.

    @Ben - I didn't know Paolo Roberto is real! That makes that scene even more hilarious. I'm not sure how the second movie treats Erika, but in the book there's a long description of her rather, um, liberated sexual practices - including threesomes with her husband and another fella. That's not real tame!

    @Julie - Cool - can't wait to dive into the last one, then! I actually thought this one was more complicated - or I had to work harder to understand - plotwise than the first one. There are a lot of connections that aren't revealed until the last third and a lot to keep track of. But I did like that this one was more about Lisbeth. Too bad we only have one book with her.

  8. @Greg, to be honest, one of the mysterious aspects of the whole series is why Blomkivst is such the "sexual Tyrannosaurus" (to quote Carl Weathers)?

    Some say that he is the man Larsson wanted to be (and if he writes about his own sexual escapades - good for him).

  9. I haven't read this one yet, but I thought that the first 100 pages or so of Dragon Tattoo were really slow.

  10. The equation scene IS kind of weird, but in terms of what she is realizing... For years everything thought the theorem was unproveable. Then someone did prove it, albeit using advanced theory that wasn't in existance when Fermat wrote his theorem. So the question was, is there a way to prove it using the techniques that were available at the time?

    Supposedly Lisbeth suddenly realizes that -- the solution that Fermat would have used back in the day.

    This is, of course, preposterous. But I suppose on a thematic level you could see it as, she is finally "solving" her own problem by confronting her past? Or something? It was a weird little subplot.

    Fermat's Theorem is a key plot point on a now-anachronistic episode of Star Trek: TNG -

  11. I thought Tattoo was clever with the murder investigation, but the second one blew my head off. I loved it. I guess I went into it knowing that Larsson does go on, and was prepared to battle through it. On audio, it isn't much of a battle though, it is a thing of beauty with Simon Vance at the helm. This was my favorite of the three.

  12. I haven't read this one yet, but I've heard a lot of fans say that the second was their least favorite. Good to know it does pick up eventually, at least!

  13. I have read all three of them, and this was also my least favorite; however I have to say that I have read Swedish novels before this trilogy and the pace and all that must be a national thing (the other books I have read were equally slow in the beginning). I agree that some of the "mundane" scenes, like the one at IKEA, could be shorter or less common, but they do add an element of identification with these characters as "real" people, people who have to eat, shower, go to the bathroom, and in the third book the IKEA purchases takes on a new meaning in relation to Lisbeth's mind.

    As to Fermat's theorem the revelation Lisbeth has is never clarified, but for me it felt more like Larsson showing just what a genius Lisbeth really is, that she can come to a solution that many mathematicians have struggled with. In the third book that mathematical epiphany is used as a reference point to show us the girl before and after the ending of the second book.

  14. @LBC - Agreed - very slow. Dragon Tattoo definitely hits its stride earlier than Played With Fire does, but they're both worth reading!

    @Joel - I'll buy that - that Lisbeth is on the verge of solving the most difficult equation of her own life: her past. Or something. Too bad Stieg's not still with us to explain that one a little better.

    @Sandy - It's amazing how opinions run the gamut on this one - lots of people say it's their favorite, lots say they hated it, as Kerry points out. Yeah, I guess if you're prepared to space out during the filler, it would be a much more satisfying read.

    @Kerry - Yep, Stieg certainly takes his time, but it does pick up.

    @Dadrocant - Well, I'd say there are certainly better ways to humanize characters than providing readers with their shopping lists. I can guess that it's a way to show Lisbeth's photographic memory, but Stieg gives us the same level of detail when he's talking about Mikael, too. Regarding the formula, my guess would be that it's that she suddenly came up with the solution in her head - that's preposterous, as Joel says - but maybe she just understood that Fermat had taken pleasure in sending centuries of mathematicians on a wild goose chase? I don't know....

  15. Didn't even get past the first 200 pages of this one. Bored bored bored. And gutted I bought all three ...I cannot bring myself to finish it...let alone start the last one. Boring and .....soulless. Thriller/crime novels aren't my favourite genre though so perhaps I'm being a little harsh!

  16. I didn't complete the first one. I have enjoyed the first two movies though. Basically, if there's not a dead body on the first page, I'm probably going to have a tough time getting into it.

  17. (Also, can anyone explain what it is that Lisbeth suddenly realized about the x3+y3=z3 equation on page 472? That's really buggin' me!):
    She giggles and then there is something to the effect that it is more a question for philosophers or something like that.
    "She GIGGLES" - it is a joke - it is funny! - get it?
    as in 1+1="a window" all kids learn that - get it yet?
    Well, fine, ok: what do horrible, unsolvable maths questions do? they put you to sleep, right? and z3 is in fact "zzz" which any child can tell you means "sleep" so x3 + y3 = "zzz".
    x2 + y2 = z2 is pythagorus theorum for a right angled triangle and completely solvable: apparantly x3 + y3 = z3 is not.
    I don't know the maths of solving it but late at night reading the book, she is a maths genious who could not solve the problem, until she "gets the joke and giggles" - I actually just came on line to see if someone else had "discovered" the answer and reached the same conclusion I did - I laughed out loud reading it because my sleep deprived brain actually made the connection between being tired and "zzz".

  18. x3 + y3 = z3 is a parody and the answer is funny.

    there is a Simpsons episode that had a maths joke with the solution being rdr2 (which is rdrr, or - say it - r d r r - "ha de ha ha")

    ps just in case: ( 1+1=window: if you write 1 with + touching the 1 then write another 1 touching the other side of the 1 then write the = as one line above the + and one below, you have drawn a window )

    of course I could have it completely wrong but I don't think so and I like it! She is a maths genious and recognises it can't be solved and that the mathematician was having a laugh, all these serious people trying with great seriousness to solve the problem and they don't realise it is a joke - she has just got the joke!

  19. Pleasing sequel
    This is the second book in the Millenium series created by Stieg Larsson. The plot revolves around the human and sex trafficing industry in Sweden and the murder of three individuals with connections to the Lisbeth Salander character.

  20. I'm surprised that no-one has pointed out that Larsson was a terrible writer!

  21. So this is so far later, but I’ve just reread the books, and looking for the word that describes how she saw it and found this page.

    Z^3 is also written as zzz
    Not mathematical, but, like a series of pictographs which describe the words. So I’m still looking for the weird, but I believe that is the laughs joke she sees

  22. Can’t find how to edit but I meant the word for a series of pictographs or inference from ideas