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The Girl Who Played with Fire is the second novel in Larsson’s much-praised Millennium trilogy, and pick Lisbeth Salander’s story up some months after the events of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (which I talked about here).

It’s always difficult to talk about the plot of a book which is part of a series and I suppose theoretically could be read as a standalone but does really need some knowledge of its predecessor to really make sense. 

Suffice to say that Blomkvist is now a major celebrity and Lisbeth is no longer in touch with him. Because of stuff that happened in the previous story some nasty people are out to get Lisbeth, and this leads to her being suspected of murdering three people. So the bulk of the story covers her on the run while trying to find out what’s going on.

Separately, Blomkvist is trying to clear Lisbeth’s name; two of the victims were friends/colleagues of his and he doesn’t belive Lisbeth committed the crime (though interestingly enough not because she isn’t capable of doing so). It’s her capacity for wreaking revenge on those who have treated her badly or offended her very personal moral code that makes her such a compelling character.

It’s all very grim, with strong violence particularly (but not solely) against women – the original journalistic investigation which kicks all of this off is about sex trafficking, continuing the theme of the exploitation of women as a hidden facet of Swedish society which characterised the first book.

In the end, how you react to this will depend on your stomach for the subject matter and whether you warm to the character of Lisbeth. I thought this was a very powerful story with some quite appalling events and revelations at the end of the book which mean that I will definitely be picking up the final volume in the series.

OK, so I know I’ve come to this one so much later than everyone else, but if you read this blog regularly then you will have worked out by now that I have never really been an early adopter (of anything). Add to that a natural reluctance to be reading something at the same time as everyone else and you get an inkling about why it’s taken me so long to pick this up.

In fact, my resistance was so strong I wasn’t even going to buy this as I thought it couldn’t possibly live up to the hype, and it was the Book God who brought it into the house.

A little bit of context on the reading experience. As I’m sure I’ve said before, for all sorts of reasons I do most of my reading on the train to and from work, and this is how I started The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Then Oscar weekend came along, and I planned to pull an all-nighter (succeeded, too). However, I have to recognise that I am getting on a bit and the whole staying up all night thing is not as easy for me as it used to be, so in addition to taking a day off on the Monday to recover, I decided to take an afternoon nap. I am not a natural napper; I don’t really like sleeping during the day and find it difficult to do so unless I am ill. So I decided that I needed something to read as a way of lulling me towards a natural, relaxing sleep.

Bad move.

I had read as far as page 149 in my copy. By the time I decided that I probably should move I had actually read the remainder of the book, that’s around 365 pages. In one afternoon. Can’t remember the last time I did that, but it tells you something about the power of the story.

So, plot synopsis very briefly in case there is anyone else out there who hasn’t had a go at this. Crusading journalist convicted of libel steps back from his day job and takes on a private commission, ostensibly the history of an industrialist’s family but actually an investigation into the disappearance and likely murder of said industrialist’s niece, probably by another member of the family. Throw in titular investigator, a young woman with, I think it’s fair to say, issues and you have a really enjoyable and gripping, if occasionally unpleasant, thriller. Don’t mind unpleasant, myself, so not an issue.

As a story it really tanks along at great speed. I never know how to judge translations (I don’t speak/read Swedish though I know a man who does) so can’t say how this stacks up to the original, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Book God has now got his hands on the first sequel so I’m sure I’ll be revisiting these characters later in the year.

HandlingtheundeadJohnAjv54431_fOtherwise known as the it-really-freaked-me-out Swedish zombie one.

So Handling the Undead is the second book by John Ajvide Lindqvist, who wrote Let the Right One In which was one of my favourite reads of last year and spawned one of the best films of 2009 (thoughts on the book are here, and the film over here). 

We are in Stockholm; the whole of the population seems to be sharing in one giant communal headache as it what feels like a thunderstorm is approaching, and no electrical appliances can be turned off, so this is a group of people under some stress. And then suddenly it stops. And roughly at the same time the dead come back to life; well not all of the dead, only those who have passed away during the previous two months.

We follow what happens over several days through a small group of characters: David, a stand-up comic whose wife is killed in a car accident just before the zombie stuff starts, and is among the first to come back; Magnus, a reporter whose young grandson died in an accident several weeks before; and Elvy, recently widowed, and her grand-daughter Flora, who both have a paranormal gift and can tell what others are feeling. Not giving too much away here as these characters and their respective situations are all introduced in the first few pages and give the emotional heart to the book.

Now I will put my cards on the table here and say that I have always had a problem with the concept of zombies in that they totally terrify me. I don’t think I have ever been able to sit through a whole zombie movie. I can happily read/watch anything about vampires, werewolves and other supernatural beasties, but zombies definitely give me pause. And I think it’s because it could happen; not the living coming back to life as such, but large groups of people becoming violent through some kind of virus or something sounds all too plausible to me and I’d rather not think about it, thank you very much.

And certainly the beginning of the book played into all of that, being pretty gruesome and not a little frightening, and it’s probably my own fault that I got so freaked as I started reading the book in bed, a stupid thing to do giving everything I said above and perhaps I deserved what I got (but thankfully no nightmares).

But then it turns into something quite different. What do the reliving actually want? How would you react if someone close to you came back but weren’t quite right? How does a modern, liberal, enlightened western European nation actually handle a situation (the answer being not terribly well and far too slowly)? And how do people of faith deal with what could be a harbinger of the end times? Oh, and can love survive?

Sounds like heavy stuff but this manages to deal with all of these issues in a thoughtful way, and this is where the range of characters actually helps move things along as they all look at the situation from a slightly different perspective. And I was so keen to find out how this would all end that I finished the book in bed in the small hours of the morning, despite my previous misgivings. It is quite gory in places but not gratuitously so.

Highly recommended. And my third read for the RIP Challenge. And I may just have to look at this zombie thing in a whole new light …

rip4150The RIP IV challenge is indeed here and after some consideration I have come up with the following list from which to select my four books for Peril the First. I’m also going to try to participate in Short Story Sunday if I can.

So the list is:

So that looks like a reasonable selection, but what of the other challenges I’ve been involved in? Well I still have good intentions for the 42 Challenge and the Art History Reading Challenge, the 100 Shots of Short is looking a bit peaky, but I am definitely going to have to throw in the towel when it comes to the Non-Fiction Five Challenge – that’s just not going to happen this year.

f5a835e6d6485985dcfb9a19dc30314e_image_122x150I don’t normally do posts that are just about stuff, but it has been that kind of week really. I’ve finally caught up with my blog reading, having been out of touch really since the middle of January when my flu/trip to Glasgow/bad weather/work overload phase started. Everything is back to normal except for the work thing which is likely to continue for the rest of this year (but which I’m secretly enjoying, if I’m honest….) So I’ve resigned myself to blogging even more erratically than normal and not really commenting elsewhere (sorry guys) but you never know, if I get myself organised things might improve.

So, stuff:

  • I’m really very sad that Steven Page is leaving Barenaked Ladies – I know the band will probably continue and will still be great, but it just won’t be the same
  • One of my New Year’s resolutions was to buy fewer books and to read more from my tbr pile. I’ve done quite well, though helped by having my birthday at the end of January and getting my fix through the Book God’s gift-giving, but I have finally succumbed and bought two novels which I’ve been waiting for with bated breath – Drood by Dan Simmons(who can ignore a book which begins “My name is Wilkie Collins”?) and Handling the Undead by John Ajvide Lindqvist (after last year’s Swedish vampires, we now have Swedish zombies). Irresistible.
  • I took delivery of some Dr Who figures as shown in the picture (along with a mini-Cyberman and mini-Dalek) – this is potentially very sad when you consider that I am a forty-seven year old woman, but I choose to see it as something positive – everyone has their particular enthusiasm and mine just happens to be a very small rubber David Tennant

All that plus the Book God and I are going to see Watchmen at the London IMAX tomorrow afternoon…………….

Updated – and Criminal Minds is back on British TV so Friday nights are fun again and I no longer have to wonder about who got blown up in the SUVs…

I have to say right at the beginning that I really love stories about vampires. That’s not to say that I am uncritical; there are at least two series of vampire novels that I’ve stopped following because the the stories have become formulaic (I won’t mention any names…..). But it means that I’m always on the lookout for something interesting in the genre, and was thrilled to come across Let The Right One In by accident when browsing in a bookshop.

According to the blurb on the cover, Lindqvist has “reinvented the vampire novel” and there is “a whiff of the new Stephen King” so this was a no brainer for me. And I’m so glad that I picked it up, as it is a genuinely creepy and unsettling book which has been stuck in my head over the few days since I finished it.

We are in Sweden, a suburb of Stockholm to be exact, on a council estate. Oskar is 12 years old, being brought up by his mother alone and bullied at school. One night, while acting out a fantasy of revenge in the local play area, he meets Eli, a girl of indeterminate age, and they form a bond. She gives him the courage to face up to his problems, but it soon becomes clear that she isn’t what she seems; she is in fact a vampire who is at least 200 years old.

That’s the set-up, but there is so much more to this story. It’s incredibly bleak in places, a lot of the characters lead disappointedlives, the children are mainly from broken homes. However, the supernatural element blends in; Eli is a victim also, turned into a vampire when a child, not really understanding how it all works but knowing what she needs to do to survive. It’s incredibly gruesome in places (which I don’t mind)  but also really affecting, and I found the end satisfying.

I’m not sure I’ve done this unusual story justice, but if you want something new in the vampire tradition then give this a try.

This is my third read for the RIP III challenge.

Bride of the Book God

Follow brideofthebook on Twitter

Scottish, in my fifties, love books but not always able to find the time to read them as much as I would like. I’m based in London and happily married to the Book God.

I also blog at Bride of the Screen God (all about movies and TV) and The Dowager Bride, if you are interested in ramblings about stuff of little consequence

If you would like to get in touch you can contact me at brideofthebookgod (at) btinternet (dot) com.

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