As with the first book in the Millennium trilogy, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, I struggled to finish The Girl Who Played With Fire. Actually, that's not accurate - with both books I struggled with the first third or so, and then couldn't put it down. I find the translated Swedish, or perhaps Stieg Larsson's savant-like attention to detail, labourious. And yet the story moves at a pace that sweeps me into it like a horrifying roller coaster through hell.
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A minor character who is skillfully managed in this volume is Holger Palmgren, Salander's lawyer who suffers a stroke early in Dragon Tattoo. Particularly compelling is his recovery from that stroke once Salander begins to visit. I would have to ask some work colleagues how accurate said recovery is, but from what I've learned about acquired brain injury, relationships provide stimulation, motivation and hope for people post-injury, so Palmgren's improvement not only makes sense but also provides some encouragement in what is otherwise a bleak landscape.
In the end, when these books aren't turning my stomach they are engaging my imagination. The characters are compelling, in their train-wrecky way. But it's really the plotting that moves the stories and keeps me reading. Where Larsson's grocery list detailing drones in describing a shopping trip to IKEA, it builds layer upon layer of tension in the movement of the story; delivering blow by slow-motion blow in the fight scenes, and inflections of meaning in human interactions slowed down by the act of observation.
I will read The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest soon and I've no doubt that I will again struggle to distance my fascination with the story from the reality of what it presents. But I will also learn more as a writer about managing detail, building characters over time, and moving plots in slow motion. And that will make the reading more rewarding than even the great story does.