13 October 2009

Recent reading: The Girl Who Played with Fire

The Girl Who Played with Fire (Millennium, #2) The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Yet another Scandiwegian whodunit!

I seem to have been reading quite a lot of these recently. This on is the second of the "Millennium" trilogy, the first being The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The plots include the staff of Millennium magazine, based in Stockholm, Sweden.

Unlike most of the Swedish whodunits I've read, in this one the protagonist is not a boozy middleaged divorced or divorcing police detective with health problems and in trouble with his superiors, but is Lisbeth Salander, a young female computer hacker with antisocial attitudes.

One problem for me was that just about the time I started reading the book I read a post on Jarred Harris's blog Mary Sue gets me thinking - The Musings of a Confused Man:
A Mary Sue (sometimes just Sue), in literary criticism and particularly in fanfiction, is a fictional character with overly idealized and hackneyed mannerisms, lacking noteworthy flaws, and primarily functioning as wish-fulfillment fantasies for their authors or readers.

Jarret linked to a site, The Universal Mary-Sue Litmus Test, and I had a look at it and started doing the test for my own fictional characters. They seemed very remote from being Mary Sues, and hardly any of the criteria applied to them even slightly. Perhaps that's because I've always believed what G.K. Chesterton said about fairy tales -- fairy tales are not about extraordinary people, but about extraordinary thing happening to ordinary people.

But the further I went into the test, the more it seemed to apply to Lisbeth Salander. Could she be a Mary Sue?

I have to admit that for the first 100 pages or so I was tempted to abandon the book, mainly because my wife had just finished one that I wanted to read more. But I stuck with it, and the pace picked up, especially after page 200 or so (there are 569 pages) and in the end I would say that it was a good read, though I still have mo reservations and some of the other characters.

Perhaps some of the flaws in the book can be attributed to the fact that all three books in the trilogy are being published posthumously, and so are in a semi-raw state. A good fiction editor might have pointed out some of the flaws in the characters, for the author to revise. But with the author being dead, no one really can revise them any more.

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There are a couple of things I can add to this blog post, which I won't include in my review on Good Reads -- some of the questions in the test that made me wonder whether Lisbeth Salander is a Mary Sue:

  1. On the subject of your character and his/her family...

    1. Was your character orphaned, abandoned, kicked out, or at least raised by a family/person that was not his/her own family?
    2. Was a major villain responsible for the death of the parents or guardians?
    3. Was your character responsible for the death of his/her parents/guardians?
    4. Did your character witness the death of the parents/guardians?
    5. Was he/she adopted by a cruel family or person?
    6. Ran away at any point?
    7. Raised him/herself?
    8. Lived in the streets?
    9. The very last or only survivor of anything?
    10. Adopted by another species/racial group?

    1. What about any of these?
      1. Born/raised in extreme poverty?
      2. Born/forced into slavery?
      3. Banished from anywhere?
      4. A member of a despised, outcast, and/or downtrodden race?
      5. An illegitimate child?
      6. The parent of an illegitimate child?
      7. Abused?
      8. Raped?

    1. If your character has a torment-ridden, pain-filled past, do you believe it excuses his/her actions?

    1. Does a major villain have a personal fixation/obsession with your character?
      1. For no apparent reason?
      2. Something that has to do with your character's family, and not your character him/herself?

    Those are just a few of the things that seem to me to apply to the protagonist, but it may be just me. But if you've read the book, and have the time, perhaps you'd like to compare the protagonist, and the villains, with the Mary Sue Litmus test and see what you think.


James Higham said...

mainly because my wife had just finished one that I wanted to read more

Perfectly valid reason.

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