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the girl who kicked the hornet's nest

9 june 2010

Sometimes a dissatisfying book can reveal its problem in one signature moment. On page 450 of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, we read this:

The meeting at the Constitutional Protection Unit lasted until after 5.00, and they agreed to have another meeting the following week. Blomkvist could contact Figuerola if he needed to be in touch with S.I.S. before then.
That's pretty innocuous, you're saying: what's wrong with that? Nothing really, except that it's the most exciting thing that happens between page 18 and page 721.

Nearly every scene in The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is a meeting. Sometimes the meetings are called to discuss other meetings. At one point, characters excitedly message one another – so that they can go off and spy on some bad guys who are holding a meeting.

I must say that this attack of sit-downishness took me by complete surprise, after the blistering page-turning of The Girl Who Played with Fire and the intricate detective work of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. And it wasn't a pleasant kind of surprise. I was ready for Blomkvist and Salander to tangle with Bond-villain-style killing machines and rearrange the world's computing system. Instead, I watched them sit down in numerous conference rooms and review the events of the previous novels.

For all its rhetoric about warrior women (inserted by Larsson in occasional essay-like interchapters), The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest keeps Lisbeth Salander in hospital or prison for almost its whole length. Instead of seeing her martial-art her way through a new sheaf of enemies, and certainly instead of seeing her discover new sexual events to enter, we watch her tap out some mild mischief via a palmtop computer.

I finished The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, but over a week's time, much of it spent stifling yawns. The failure of this third (and last) installment by the late Larsson means that I have to revise my estimate of the whole series downward a notch, of course. It now seems to consist of one pretty good mystery story (Tattoo) followed by a bloated two-part sequel that spends its second half (Hornet) defusing the tensions set up in its first (Fire). The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo may in time come to seem a genre standard in a kind of feminist-Tom-Clancy mode; its sequels are merely disappointing.

Larsson, Stieg. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. [Luftslottet Som Sprängdes, 2007] Trans. Reg Keeland. 2009. London: MacLehose, 2010.