The Girl Who Played with Fire is the second book in the Millenium series by Stieg Larsson (see my review of the first book here).
Again, Larsson crafts up an intricate and complicated mess. This time, Lisbeth becomes the prime suspect for a triple murder, and I was very intrigued with what kind of strategies and tactics she would use to get herself out of this sticky situation. This review will talk about: Fermat’s Last Theorem, Male characters, and Systemic Negligence.
There are no innocents. There are, however, different degrees of responsibility.
Fermat’s Last Theorem
Math is not really my thing, but evidently it is Lisbeth’s thing. She loves math and puzzles, and equations become a recurring symbol in all sections of the book. There are two reasons on why I believe Larsson alludes Fermat’s Last Theorem many times.
- The mystery of the triple murder. The formula x^n + y^n = z^n is comprised of all unknown variables. When the investigation first begins, the police think it’s a simple case because Lisbeth’s handprints are on the weapon. However, the more they investigate, the more they realize there are more components at play. When they uncover a new clue or suspect, the possibilities for motives and theories of what actually happened spray off into different directions, just like how the formula uses exponential degrees of power. The entire book is about uncovering the unknown variables, where the reader is able to see the whole picture of the domino effect.
- Absurdities. Fermat’s theory was that if n > 2, there are no numbers that can satisfy the equation. This theory frustrated mathematicians for years after his death because nobody could figure out how or why, in an infinite set of numbers, this equation could not be satisfied. This aspect of the equation also connects to Lisbeth’s identity as an individual. Police, newspapers and the media all conjure theories and identities about her, all of which were untrue. Lisbeth is impossible to analyze, theorize, or measured into a common equation no matter how many psychiatrists, foster parents, and her friends take a crack at her.
Men are disgusting pigs
His attitude had always been that if a woman clearly indicated that she did not want anything more to do with him, he would go on his way. Not respecting such a message would in his eyes, show a lack of respect for her.
Larsson’s first book was about violence against women. His second book involves Sweden’s sex trade. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out which male characters are the bad guys and who are the good guys. You can tell from the way certain characters speak or look, that they are either gentlemen or assholes. There are very few characters in-between.
While I like to believe that everyone is a mixture of good and bad, there seems to be quite a black and white defining line for the male characters in this series. For example, the male characters in this book split into two different perspectives of Lisbeth. They either think she is a crazy whore who deserves whatever unfortunate events that come her way, or an introverted but commendable intellectual. I dare to say that this perception is not only applied to Lisbeth, but to all women. Whether it is the police officers, employees at Milton’s Security, journalists and the media, or other random male characters, they all either believe women are whores and are deficient in some way, or they treat them respectfully. In the context of sex trafficking, I suppose many male characters would be portrayed as sexist bastards, but I would have loved to read about a less definitive cast.
Normalized Harms in Society
When all the media assertions were put together, the police appeared to be hunting for a psychotic lesbian who had joined a cult of Satanists that propagandized for S&M sex and hated society in general and men in particular.
I have to admit, I really liked Lisbeth after reading the first book. However, in the second book I do believe she goes too extreme in her ways. The ending freaked me out and I did feel as if she was a monster of some sort. At the very least, inhumane.
At times, I feel like Lisbeth is the perfect example of the effects of systemic negligence. For example, in this book we learn about what happened during “All the Evil”, an incident that happened during Lisbeth’s childhood. It is this incident that begins Lisbeth’s life of mistreatment and unfairness from authoritative figures, causing her to have intense mistrust in the government, police, men, and social systems in society. She loses her willingness to comply with laws or regulations and believes in taking matters into her own hands. Lisbeth is ultimately isolated from society and refuses to become a part of the system.
It is unfortunate, really, because Lisbeth has many technical and mental strengths that could make large positive impacts in society for a variety of areas and social issues. While she, in her own ways, does provide positive impacts, it is often misunderstood by outsiders or third parties who are too narrow-minded to think out of the system. This makes readers root for Lisbeth even more, even if her tactics are just as unethical or unmoral as the systems that fight against her.