Review of "The Girl Who Played With Fire" by Stieg Larsson (2009)
This a detective story set in Sweden. But please don’t let me put you off. This is not just another detective story set in Sweden.
It is the second of Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium Trilogy” and like both of the so far UK-published volumes deals with some big themes. Here it is the sexual repression of Swedish public life. Is this the “liberal” Swedes we are talking about? Yep.
The “girl” of the title is super-intelligent, serially abused, and thus chronically angry, computer hacker Lisbeth Salander. In this book, helped by her ally campaigning journalist Mikael Blomquist, she breaks up a gang of sex traffickers.
The book is an uneasy mix of supportive but critical examination of the Swedish sex industry laws. An interesting theme then, as the British government prepares to introduce laws based on the Swedish model — including criminalising “punters” and increasing crackdowns on of brothels (which will make the lives of sex workers more dangerous).
Larsson was a left-winger, a world famoust anti-facist in fact (he died in 2004). He clearly broadly supported Sweden’s laws. Yet he does point to a danger inherent in a system of legislation which is all about repressing the sex industry; abolition and prohibition tends to drive the banned thing underground. That makes black markets and in turn creates opportunities for profiteers and for people with power — politicians and police to become corrupted. This is theme of Larsson’s book.
Whatever the politics this is a great read, especially for its wonderful, original heroine who has, for all her crack self-defence skills, a heart-breaking vulnerability.