The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest picks up from where its predecessor ended, with Salander fighting for her life in the intensive care unit. Her father is lying a few doors along the corridor as a result of the wounds inflicted on him by Salander herself. Throughout the novel, the covert workings of the Swedish secret service are laid bare, as are the cut-throat realities of the world of newspapers. The immorality of those in power has also been brutally brought to the fore. The theme of how words can be a force for justice permeates the narrative. Meanwhile, the story of Millennium, for which Larsson’s other protagonist, the campaigning journalist Mikael Blomkvist, works, continues to develop.

If love is liking someone an awful lot, then I suppose I’m in love with several people.

Larsson was a cerebral, high-minded activist and self-proclaimed feminist, who happened to have a God-given gift for pulse-racing narratives. It is this offbeat combination of attributes that has made the series such a sui generis hit.

Larsson has exquisitely created a dark, nearly humorless world, where everyone works passionately into the night while swilling down tons of coffee. However, this world is far from a dystopian realm. The good guys (or the upright people of all genders) always prevail in the end. The books are not, by any stretch of imagination, lightweight. In fact, their combined bulk comes out at upward of 500 pages apiece! The fact that they qualify as page-turners in spite of their voluminous sizes is a testimony to the genius of Larsson.

The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, by Stieg Larsson

Women appear as equal players – police officers, advocates, journalists – rather than just glamorous sidekicks or hapless victims. The story of The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest is wonderfully interconnected: the turf wars between the police and the intelligence agencies; the backstory and the seemingly unending skulduggery of the Section; the dogged shoe-leather journalism of Blomkvist and the Millennium staff; and Salander’s impressive ability to marshal the forces of her hacker peers from her hospital bed.

Salander’s gloriously anti-authoritarian personality is in keeping with the unapologetic feminist views peculiar to Larsson’s novels. Every positive character, whether male or female, fights against the oppressive forces of misogyny. They stand up to the everyday sexism that unabashedly assumes female deference to be the default position at the workplace. They also wage war on the more violent eruptions that result in psychological and sexual abuse and, sometimes, even death.

When their love was not reciprocated, it could quickly turn to violent hatred.

The entire novel has an underlying sense of comeuppance. It also has a subtle undercurrent examining how the society chooses to treat those it does not understand. The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest is a satire on how societal rules define madness, and how easy it is to look the other way. The clever twists and turns mean that Salander even making it to the courtroom is far from a foregone conclusion.

I’m not going to apologize for the way I’ve led my life.

In her vengeful, anti-establishment anger and the propensity to get violent, Lisbeth Salander is a perfect tea-party heroine. One is free to imagine how her decent-minded creator must be shuddering in his grave at this unintended consequence of having ventured into sub-literature.

Ameya Rating:
4/5

Bagging a commendable score of 4 stars out of 5, The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest is a grown-up novel for grown-up readers. It is an ideal choice for readers who want something more than a quick fix and a car chase. This has, quite aptly, been the reason why the Millennium Trilogy has become a publishing phenomenon all across the globe.

NOTE

Stieg had a prologue to this chapter, highlighting the role and importance of women throughout history:

It is estimated that some six hundred women served during the American Civil War. They had signed up disguised as men. Hollywood has missed a significant chapter of cultural history here – or is this history ideologically too difficult to deal with? Historians have often struggled to deal with women who do not respect gender distinctions, and nowhere is that distinction more sharply drawn than in the question of armed combat. (Even today, it can cause controversy having a woman on a typically Swedish moose hunt.)

But from antiquity to modern times, there are many stories of female warriors, of Amazons. The best known find their way into the history books as warrior queens, rulers as well as leaders. They have been forced to act as any Churchill, Stalin, or Roosevelt: Semiramis from Nineveh, who shaped the Assyrian Empire, and Boudicca, who led one of the bloodiest English revolts against the Roman forces of occupation, to cite just two. Boudicca is honoured with a statue on the Thames at Westminster Bridge, right opposite Big Ben. Be sure to say hello to her if you happen to pass by.

On the other hand, history is quite reticent about women who were common soldiers, who bore arms, belonged to regiments, and played their part in battle on the same terms as men. Hardly a war has been waged without women soldiers in the ranks.

…now that you’re here

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