Book Review: Stieg Larsson’s THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST

It was with a sense of melancholy that I closed the cover on Stieg Larsson’s The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (Knopf, May 25, U.S. release) after finishing the last page. For it is the last page; there will be no more Lisbeth Salander, a character I’ve been rooting for from the moment I met her in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, someone I’ve enjoyed spending time with, as antisocial as she is. I tried to prolong the experience, reading slowly and in small spurts, but failed miserably.

The events of the previous books in the Millenium trilogy have led to this (spoilers for those who haven’t read the other two books): Lisbeth being captured and put on trial for attempted murder, aggravated assault and other trumped up charges. She has to face Dr. Peter Teleborian, the nefarious psychiatrist who conspired with a maverick faction within the Secret Police to have Lisbeth sent away to an asylum when she was 12. Teleborian and his colleagues once again attempt to have her committed, neutralizing all claims of how they’ve abused her civil rights, but this time Lisbeth fights back with the help of her journalist friend, Mikael Blomkvist, and his lawyer sister, Annika Giannini, who decides to rep Lisbeth.

Meanwhile, the police are searching for her murderous half-brother Ronald Niedermann, who has unfinished business with Lisbeth. The two share the blood of their father, a depraved Russian spy defector, and in the end, Lisbeth must decide how much she’s willing to sacrifice in order to stop the evil from spreading. (End spoilers.)

While misogyny has been a running theme in these books, the other two also had strong mysteries built in. There are mystery elements here (who’s sending hate mail and stalking Erika Berger, former editor of Millenium magazine?) but I felt Larsson finally going all out with his condemnation of how some men still treat women, of how absolute power corrupts when there’s no one to watch the watchers (it’s convenient that one of the heroes is a journalist, as Larsson was). A dirty police inspector thinks the following while looking at Lisbeth:

She’s fucking retarded, [he] thought…He reminded himself that she was a lesbian and consequently not a real woman.

The fight Lisbeth now has on her hands is less a physical one than an intellectual one, for she must prove she’s not only mentally competent now but always has been. She must convince the judge that she and her rights have been repeatedly violated by men in power, not just because she’s a woman but a smart and resourceful one, a threat to those with malicious intent. These are big claims from a petite girl and I’ll just say her day in court is immensely satisfying.

Before she can get there, Lisbeth spends much of the book in seclusion (though she’s hardly idle), first in a hospital with a police guard then in jail awaiting trial. Because she’s such a badass, I wanted her out putting the hurt on those who deserve it. But she does have a final confrontation in which she makes a surprising decision, one which shows how her travails have changed her. And while I was sad to say goodbye, it’s good to leave her in a hopeful place, one in which she may no longer need to play with fire or kick hornets’ nests.

Nerd verdict: Girl finishes strongly

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24 Comments

  • Reply
    Brett Battles
    May 12, 2010 at 6:12 am

    I felt exactly the same way. I so didn’t want it to end, but was very satisfied, and felt great for Lisbeth when I closed the book. In fact, I think that’s how I would describe Hornet’s Nest…Immensely satisfying.

    I wish we were anticipating more novels in the series, but if this had to be the end, I can’t think of a better way to go out.

    Thanks, Stieg. You were a hell of a writer.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      May 12, 2010 at 1:45 pm

      I was on pins & needles while reading, thinking, I will NOT be able to stand it if this doesn’t end satisfactorily. Luckily, it did but I’m still sad. Guess we still have the movies to look forward to, though not necessarily the American (Canadian?) version.

  • Reply
    LolosLetters
    May 12, 2010 at 7:20 am

    I still remember my feelings of elation upon finding Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (which seems oh so long ago now) soon to be followed by immense sadness upon trying to find out more about this wonderful author. Such a sad story, both the too-soon passing of a great artist and the horrible way his partner has been impacted.

    Not sure when I’m going to be able to bring myself to read Hornet’s Nest, knowing there will be no more. Like you, E, I try to savor every word as I go. It’s a horrible/wonderful push/pull between the desire to savor and the way his words simply won’t allow it.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      May 12, 2010 at 1:53 pm

      I whooped for joy when I received the ARC. Then it sat on my desk for 2 months because I knew if I picked it up, it’d be over too soon. And that’s exactly what happened.

      I also hate how things have turned out for Eva Gabrielsson. There’s a Support Eva website where fans can donate money to her.

  • Reply
    Novelwhore
    May 12, 2010 at 7:51 am

    I have this preordered!!!!!! My trepidation over disappointment in this last installment has waned since you promise a strong finish (and Brett, above, agrees). I must admit though I prefer the action than all the financial dealings (I love Lisbeth kicking ass). Is there any romance between she and Blomkvist?

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      May 12, 2010 at 1:58 pm

      I also love Lisbeth kicking ass. She does get to do it a little and there’s not a lot of financial dealings here.

      Regarding the romance, see my Twitter DM to you.

  • Reply
    EIREGO
    May 12, 2010 at 10:18 am

    I have been anxiously awaiting the final book in this trilogy. Once you get past the pace and odd translation, the stories are entirely gripping. Glad to hear Lisbeth is back in fine form.

    Can hardly wait.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      May 12, 2010 at 2:02 pm

      There are some awkward sentences that made me laugh: “You give off the most incredible sexual vibrations.” Try THAT as a pick-up line!

  • Reply
    Reader#9
    May 12, 2010 at 12:10 pm

    Counting down the days, but sad this trilogy is over.

    Is is it just me or do we all feel a certain melancholy when a series of books end and the author won’t, or in this case, can’t continue the story?

    I always end up wandering through the aisles of my favorite bookstores searching the multi-colored bindings for my next escape.

    Already ordered my copy. Thanks for turning me on to the series, PCN!

    • Reply
      Christine
      May 12, 2010 at 12:41 pm

      I’m right there with you, R#9! If I’ve stuck with a series, it’s primarily because of the characters. So saying good-bye to any new stories about these characters I’ve come to know and care about, it’s a sad thing.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      May 12, 2010 at 2:05 pm

      Reader#9 & Christine—This is similar to how I mourned the end of the Harry Potter series, though I don’t want anymore. Rowling left the gang in a good place, too.

  • Reply
    Christine
    May 12, 2010 at 12:27 pm

    I’ve been looking forward to Hornet’s Nest. Can’t tell you how relieved I am to read yours and Brett’s reviews! It’s bad enough knowing that there won’t be another novel from Larsson, but it would have been worse if there hadn’t seemed to be any resolution. Can you imagine if we were left with an ending like that in Played with Fire? I don’t doubt that I’ll be as unsuccessful at prolonging the reading experience as you were, Elyse.

    Btw, Brian and I are finally going to see The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo tonight! YAY!!!

    • Reply
      Brett Battles
      May 12, 2010 at 1:08 pm

      Christine, you’ll have to let us know what you think once you’ve seen it!

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      May 12, 2010 at 2:09 pm

      If this had ended like Fire, I might’ve thrown a Molotov cocktail or two myself. Not at anyone, mind you, maybe into a fireplace or something just to vent my frustration.

      Ditto what Brett said about reporting back on the movie!

      • Reply
        Christine
        May 12, 2010 at 7:11 pm

        What did I think about the movie? O…M…G! OUT-BLOODY-STANDING!!!!!!! I can’t remember the last time both Brian and I walked out of a theater and thought “Wow! THAT was a great film.” [It should be noted that Brian was skeptical going in because 1) how could they do justice to the book and 2) it’s subtitled. I believe I won some brownie points for taking him with me. ;-)] It’s been a while since we’ve read the book, but neither of us thought that there was anything of consequence missing in the screenplay.

        Thank you, thank you, thank you to Music Box Films for bringing this fantastic movie to us! Thanks also to you and Brett for your most excellent recommendation! I can’t wait to see Nyqvist and Rapace in The Girl Who Played with Fire!

        • Reply
          Brett Battles
          May 12, 2010 at 8:06 pm

          I knew you’d love it!! It really was awesome, wasn’t it?

          • Reply
            Christine
            May 13, 2010 at 12:43 pm

            We hardly ever go to see movies in the theater any more because we’re so frequently disappointed. How refreshing it was to walk out of the theater with both of us buzzing about the movie. Awesome is right, Brett!

        • Reply
          Pop Culture Nerd
          May 12, 2010 at 9:27 pm

          Hooray! I’m so glad you liked it, Christine. If you didn’t, I would’ve had to disown you as a friend and then blocked you from this site.

          Now circle July 2 on your calendar as the release date for Fire (at least in some cities) and October 15 for Hornet’s Nest!

          • Reply
            Christine
            May 13, 2010 at 12:59 pm

            Thanks for the heads-up, PCN! Calendars are marked to BOLO for the next two films.

  • Reply
    le0pard13
    May 12, 2010 at 4:11 pm

    Since I have not started the trilogy, I see I have a lot to look forward to. I’m sure I’ll end up in the place as you all when I finish it. Thanks for the great review, PCN.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      May 12, 2010 at 9:29 pm

      Oh, you have so much goodness ahead of you. When you start, let me know so I can e-mail you every 2 days and discuss.

    • Reply
      Shell Sherree
      May 13, 2010 at 1:14 am

      Thanks, PCN! I’m in the same boat as le0pard13 ~ I have GWTDT on my bedside table, and it’s next in line. I suspect by the time I’m finished reading the trilogy, US versions of all three movies will already be on DVD!

      • Reply
        Pop Culture Nerd
        May 13, 2010 at 1:41 pm

        Um, how long have you had GwtDT on your table, Shell?

  • Reply
    EIREGO
    June 10, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    I finally finished it!! I have such a stack on my nightstand….

    It opened strong, but then got bogged down a bit with the backstory on so many of the bad guys involved.

    Then IT ROCKED!!! I really liked a lot, PCN. Thanks for turning me on the series.

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