Revisiting The Girl Who Played With Fire

Posted on 15th August 2015 by Rob Chilver
We revisit Stieg Larson's second book as Lisbeth Salander finds herself on the run...

When I first began the Millennium trilogy many years ago, I was fortunate enough to be able to go from finishing The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, taking a quick moment to catch my breath, and then diving straight into its follow-up. For others who read along with publication, they had to wait almost a year to find out what happened to Blomqvist and Salander after they came face to face with the horrors of the Vanger family, but once again, in this re-read I've dived straight in. Once more I'm surprised at how Larsson sets this out to be different from the original: for the large part of The Girl Who Played With Fire our titular character that very much helped to redefine the crime genre is missing, and yet, it remains a fantastic and compelling read. 

In the main our focus here is with Blomkvist. With his magazine Millennium, he is investigating an international sex trafficking ring, one of the many issues in Sweden that Larsson chooses to focus on this time round. Suddenly the investigative journalists working with Mikael are found dead and Lisbeth's fingerprints are found at the scene. She disappears, wanted by police for murder, and beginning an absence that casts an intriguing shadow over the book.  

Salander suddenly finds herself in the centre of a media witch-hunt, with theories about motives being tossed around in public along with her private details. For a moment we the reader are left to question - just how much do we really know about Lisbeth Salander? As for Blomkvist, he is torn between his loyalties towards Salander and the writers of his magazine who were murdered apparently at her hands. With the focus on Blomkvist, it's a credit to Larsson’s writing that we the reader miss Lisbeth, wondering what she is doing to prove her innocence and looking forward to her return yet remain caught up in the murder mystery around her. 

Lisbeth proving her innocence is just one of the many puzzles and riddles that the book poses. Before her ordeal begins, as she spends time relaxing in the Caribbean Salander sets herself the not-so-big task of solving Fermat's Last Theorem, a complex mathematical problem, just for fun. We also are tasked with solving her as elements from her past begin to emerge as the investigation continues. The Salander we thought we knew from the first book quickly begins to change and shift. Her appearance alters and she takes on different forms throughout the book. She moves from criminal acts, with her remarkable ease at hacking into major corporations, to the act of catching criminals themselves, her moral compass shifting depending on the situation.

This time around, Larsson's running theme is misogyny and the harm done to women by corrupt, evil men and once again it is a hefty book, packed with a narrative that twists and turns sitting beside the darker elements of society that Larsson wishes to illuminate. The follow-up may lack the confined narrative that so defined in the first book, that of the mystery taking place on Vanger Island, but here the story is expanded much wider, ending on a cliff-hanger that continues into the third book. We are left to genuinely fear for the outcome of our protagonists, as Larsson keeps us guessing up the very last page.


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