Fire is contradicting in almost every sense. While it brings warmth and comfort, it can also be destructive and deadly. Historically, fire was a sign for life and sustenance. Being so difficult to capture in its early discovery, fire was often sacred and used in ceremonies to appease Gods of all religions. Today fire is dangerous, often associated with wrath and pain. Fire is also figuratively seen as power, strength and will. A more befitting word couldn’t have been used to entitle Steig Larsson’s Dragon Tattoo sequel, The Girl Who Played with Fire; a novel that’s deadly to the core, but oh so delightful to behold.
Like its predecessor, the plot focuses on the two progressing storylines of its heroes, Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist. Without any spoilers, the duo’s unrelated lives are interwoven beautifully, to finally unite in the Everest-proportioned climax and explosive cliffhanger. In this novel we find Lisbeth scornful of Blomkvist’s indiscretion, and hell-bent in shutting him out of her life for good. For Blomkvist, having restored his place in Millennium magazine, he is keenly interested in the mud raking potential a new story brought in by an aspiring journalist Dag Svensson. Dag presents several years of investigation into human trafficking and sexual violence that links many high ranking officials in government and the police force. It’s a scandal of monumental proportions that could not only set Dag on the map, but also bring Millennium up from the brink of bankruptcy.
As I mentioned in my last post discussing the first novel, author of the series Steig Larsson had a personal stake in women’s violence after witnessing the gang rape of a girl when he was 15. He confided in his best friend, Kurdo Baksi, about the initial idea of writing the series:
“Stieg told me, ‘I need to write this book’,” he said. “‘It’s really important to me. I saw a rape and I didn’t do anything. I felt terrible about what I had seen.'”
The incident happened in 1969 at a camping site in northern Sweden. Three of his friends assaulted a 15-year-old girl as Larsson watched.
“Her screams were heartrending, but he didn’t intervene,” writes Baksi in his book. “His loyalty to his friends was too strong. He was too young, too insecure. It was inevitable that he would realize afterwards that he could have acted and possibly prevented the rape.”
Larsson’s apology fell on deaf ears. “In the north of Sweden, nobody forgets,” said Baksi.
Larsson began penning the first novel back in 1997. Two more events occurred during that time which would shadow the events that transpired in the novel. Larsson wrote in an article for his magazine entitled, “Swedish and un-Swedish Violence Towards Women.” First, in 2001 model Melissa Nordell was sexually assaulted and killed by her possessive boyfriend after she wanted to break up. Next Fadime Sahindal, a woman of Kurdish descent, was murdered by her father under the pretext of being an “honor killing.” Larsson explains, “Both cases involved older men with a need to control younger women who were in the process of breaking free. […] The media referred to both victims by their first names only, giving them the same implied status as a child or a domestic pet, defenseless and naïve.” Infuriated by the lackadaisical attitude of the press, he began writing a nonfiction book, exposing the cultural concept of honor killings and societies shameful disregard for violent acts against women.
While his first novel explored the sexual mistreatment of Lisbeth Salander and another major character (withheld for spoiler purposes), Played with Fire critiques other exploitations of power often overlooked in society. Larsson not only brings to light the minutest abuses, but makes them clearly known to the reader through different male and female protagonist’s actions and intentions. While many feminists criticize the Millennium novels for the depictions of violence, Larsson’s redemption lies in the characters’ of his novels. Like Salander, women consistently step up to become fighters and resist being taking advantage of including, academic kick-boxer Miriam Wu against her assailant and captor, detective Sonja Modig towards the advances and threats of colleague Hans Faste, or even Blomkvist’s sister, lawyer Annika Giannini’s resistance to social stigma and Swedish protocols of law.
Admittedly, Larsson isn’t the most eloquent of writers (I sympathize), but you can’t argue his motives are earnest and true. He was an ordinary person dedicated to doing what was right and fighting the social injustices plaguing society. Women everywhere are victims at the hands of men in power, and to me it was welcoming to read of a handful that resisted the patriarchy and come out on top, often on their own but always supported by their male counterparts. Even if it is a fictitious series, it gives hope that one day women won’t have to fight, hope that if they do they are successful, hope that their government will support and protect them. Personally it lit a fire in me to answer the call, speak up and join the fight against oppression. If there was any dying wish or intention Stieg Larsson left, it would be for others like me to open their eyes to the world around us, burning in hatred and mistreatment, and rise like the heroes of the Millennium series to squelch the flames.