The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest by Stieg Larsson
Kerre warned me at the outset of our chat not to give away too much about The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest, the final in the trilogy by Swedish journalist/novelist/crusader Stieg Larsson, who died prematurely, in 2004 at age 50, shortly after handing the complete series to his publisher. I wouldn’t dare; to do so would destroy the amazing treat in store for whoever picks up this 600-page delight of a political crime thriller. In fact, to some extent the three books, known as the Millennium trilogy, defy genre categorization. They involve complex family dramas, serial killers and sexual psychosadists, political conspiracies, journalistic crusades, international computer hackery, espionage, criminal industrialists, Russian defectors, sex crimes, corrupt psychiatrists and the Swedish secret police. And a love triangle or two.
If any of that appeals to you, I urge you to get to work on this little collection – it’s a trilogy that you can completely immerse yourself in for the duration. You could read The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest as a stand-alone book, though I wouldn’t advise it – you’d be cheating yourself. The first two books (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played With Fire) have many characters in common (including the primary one, The Girl of the titles, the remarkable Lisbeth Salander) and great plots of their own, and set up the complex stories that Larsson brings to fruition in the final instalment.
Part of my enjoyment of the series has come from learning about Larsson, an extraordinary character who quite literally worked himself into an early grave. He wrote the Millennium trilogy (which has to date sold 12 million copies worldwide) as a hobby, a distraction, from his day job as the chief editor of the left-wing, anti-fascist magazine Expo. His lifelong campaigning against right-wing extremism in Sweden took a toll on his day-to-day life; for the last 15 years, of his life, Larsson and his partner, Eva Gabrielsson, lived under constant threat from right-wing violence, particularly after a labour-union leader was murdered in his home by neo-Nazis in 1999.
According to the website stieglarsson.com, he fit the classic definition of a workaholic, working on the magazine and related political activity by day, and writing the books by night, while smoking 60 hand-rolled cigarettes and skipping most meals.
The aftermath of the books’ success is a story in itself; despite being with Eva for decades, because they never married, under Swedish law she is not entitled to any of the proceeds from the books, and Larsson’s father and brother, from whom he was estranged, are raking in the profits. Meanwhile, a film of the first book (the Swedish title is Men Who Hate Women) is in the works. Hopefully a subtitled version will show up in our neck of the woods.
Do check out stieglarsson.com for a full biography – his death was a loss to more than just lovers of good fiction.
Just in Time to be Too Late by Peta Mathias
On a more cheerful note, one of New Zealand’s true grande dames, Peta Mathias, has published a book about men, Just in Time to be Too Late: Why Men are Like Buses. It’s a companion of sorts to her 2008 book about women, Can We Help it if We’re Fabulous? and, as much as I liked that, I think this new tome is even better. For starters, I learned more. She retains the successful formula of assigning chapters by topic, including Work, Family, Relationships, Sex & Love, Food & Health, Sports (in which Peta goes off on an hilarious tangent about the sadistic battiness that is the Spanish devotion to bullfighting) Fashion, Gay Men (my personal favourite), and the delicious, save-the-best-till-last final chapter, entitled Why Men Lie, in which Peta (who is single at 60 but a great believer in taking lovers) tells the story of the scoundrel who broke her heart.
Peta is best-known to most Kiwis for her association with food and cooking; she has produced many cookbooks, is a newspaper columnist on the topic and has been the longtime host of TVNZ’s Taste New Zealand. She’s a tremendous self-actualizer, having returned to New Zealand in the early 1990s after 10 years in France with a plan to make a living working for herself writing about food. She has also established successful cooking schools in the south of France and Morocco.
A woman who has lived so well has a fair few stories to tell, and this is what makes her non-food books such thoroughly engaging reading. Peta is a great writer and does her research; Just in Time to be Too Late features Q&As with several men she knows, friends and acquaintances, who candidly offer their thoughts on everything from monogamy and children to food and footwear.
My favourite parts are Peta’s story of The Best Gay Man She Ever Knew, and her description of her wedding in France, at which all the guests wore black. One of the best New Zealand books of the year, for my money. Maybe we can make her a real Dame?