For any readers who have been living in a cave for this millennium, a brief plot summary: Journalist Mikael Blomkvist is hired -- after a young researcher/hacker named Lisbeth Salander has provided a thorough dossier -- by a wealthy Swedish industrialist named Henrik Vanger. The elderly Vanger wants Blomkvist to discover what happened to his beloved great-niece Harriet, who disappeared from the family's compound 40 years earlier. Salander, an odd girl/woman with the tattoo and a multitude of socialization issues, joins him in his research. In keeping with Larsson's original title for the novel, Men Who Hate Women (Män som hatar kvinnor), the answer to Harriet's disappearance is related to sexual violence and perversion.
An intrinsic part of the novel is Blomkvist's journalistic vendetta against another Swedish businessman, Hans-Erik Wennerström. At the beginning, Blomkvist has just lost a libel suit and is sent to prison. At the end, well, I won't spoil it for the three people who haven't read this and -- like me -- plan to.
Because I knew already what was going to happen, I found most of the book to be a bit of a slog. Hardly suspenseful in any way. The sexual perversions are extremely brief (much longer and more terrifying in the movie ... but maybe that's because I didn't know they were coming). There are lengthy passages of family relationships, mind-numbing discussions of business dealings, and meandering conversations over dinner and coffee that give you a peek at character development but nothing you haven't learned three times over. The dialogue is fairly clunky. After the mystery of Harriet's disappearance is resolved, you still have three discs to go and these are deadly: email conversations, editorial meetings, and a lengthy con by Salander that might be amusing if it were 20 minutes shorter.
All in all, I am wondering what the fuss is about.
I chose to listen to this primarily because of Simon Vance. His recordings of the three novels have been praised, awarded, and loudly feted since he began producing them two years ago. Considering how much listening I do, I am surprised at how infrequently I've listened to Vance.
All the praise is well-justified, Vance is pretty darn good here. He has a wonderfully mellifluous voice that soothes and inspires confidence. He reads rapidly to keep the plot moving and yet pauses appropriately for emotional or suspenseful moments. His great skill is character development and he does a brilliant job with the many, many people in this novel. What I particularly enjoyed was that no one speaks with a Swedish accent (see here); all the accents are variations on English. And, of course, he's completely consistent and easily switches between characters in dialogue.
In the Vance-narrated novel I listened to a year ago, I noted a general dissatisfaction with his voices for women. Not a problem in Girl: I liked his interpretation of Salander a lot. Her spikiness and intelligence are crystal clear in Vance's characterization and despite my general lack of enthusiasm for the novel, I was completely caught off guard at the very end at Salander's loneliness and heartbreak.
Inappropriate moments of hilarity: One of the secondary characters is named Dirch Frode, which is pronounced FRO-deh, but every time I heard it, I had a wee picture of a certain hobbit in my head.
Depending on ear-space, I think I'll probably give the next in the series a listen. I'd like to go into at least one of these without preconceptions ... except, of course, that I'm visualizing those two actors. And while the Swedish actor Mikael Nyqvist is probably a more accurate portrayal of a middle-aged man, it's hard to deny the visual appeal of Daniel Craig. Darn it! Now I'll have James Bond in my head while listening! Now that is deeply wrong.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, translated by Reg Keeland
Narrated by Simon Vance
Books on Tape, 2008. 16:21 (unabridged)