The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson (Alfred A. Knopf, 2008 [translated by Reg Keeland]{Audible Audio Edition, Narrator: Simon Vance})


audibookcoverDragontattooGrade: Γ — (Gamma) A good or even fantastic book within the genre, possibly worth reading regardless of which genres you like, but has a setting or style that is likely to be unappealing to individuals who are not fans of a given genre. This is the highest grade that many very good books that are part of a series can receive, since series require an investment in reading that normally only appeals to fans of that genre. 

In brief:

Technically, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson is a ‘Cold Case, Locked Door Mystery’ that takes place in remote Sweden, but really it’s about the personal and societal mistreatment of women.  As such, a slightly pedestrian mystery becomes a very good book to read… and even better to listen to.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo film tie in front coverSetting:

Sweden, early 2000’s.

In Depth:

Make no mistake about it, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a book about the denigration of women. Oh, don’t get me wrong, on the surface it’s a Cold Case, Locked Door Mystery that takes place in remote Sweden, but really it’s about the personal and societal disrespect of women.  The degree to which this is the case can be found in it’s Swedish title, Män som hatar kvinnor: “Men Who Hate Women.”

larsson-stieg-the-girl-with-the-dragon-tattoo-ftiIn one way or another, there is not a single male character in the book who does not in some way denigrate women, be it in the form of violent rape, condescending over protection, benign neglect, or simple irresponsible obliviousness; men just do not come off very well in this book.  That’s ok, because neither do many of the women.  Many, though by no means all, also play a part in mistreatment of the female gender either through their own acts or through their ability to ignore or even cover up their mistreatment.  As such, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo paints a fairly damning portrait of Swedish society – and if we are honest with ourselves, the rest of Western Society as well.

In this respect, the book could almost qualify as an Alpha rating.  In the end it doesn’t because the prose is not the best (even taken into account that it was translated from the original Swedish)[1] and while the plot was solid enough, it was not all that outstanding.

dragontattoo2The framework on which the book is built is a cold-case locked room mystery, and as such is perfectly adequate.  It does, however, rely quite heavily on ‘burying the clues in too much information.’[2] Now, that by itself is totally acceptable, but I could see the smoke and mirrors that serve to hide who the real antagonist of the tale is. What is more, I saw the final plot twist coming from the moment we discovered what the central mystery of the story was.  In its favor, however, is the fact that it didn’t hide any information at all — and that is a bit of a relief in modern mystery writing.

To that end, if you are a mystery fan and want a decent enough story, this is a perfectly serviceable novel, but really, it is an awful lot more.  It really is quite an interesting read.  It has solid characters and makes insightful points about society in a manner that does not come off as preachy.  A good read for anyone interested.

simon vanceNotes about the Audio Edition:

Simon Vance lived up to his excellent performance levels again while narrating this book.  Listening to him is always a pleasure as that he can take a mediocre book and make it truly enjoyable. In this case, he took a good book and made it better, but he did something more; he did something that is a bit noteworthy.

The now famous protagonist of this story, Lisbeth Salander, has become a bit of a cult icon.  Portrayed in this and two other novels, she is described in the text as being under five feet tall, 90 lbs, and a natural red head who dyes her hair black.  A societal dysfunctional with a cunning analytical mind and an almost inhuman detachment, Larsson notes her as being emotionally removed at best and cold in her interactions.

simonvance-Headshot-e1367707754767To that end, it seemed at first quite interesting to me that Vance decided to read her using a classic southern English working/underclass accent.  Not the sort of depressed monosyllabic type, mind you, but rather the more agitated, smart and streetwise cadence. Oh it is a 100% accurate to the type of goth-cum-punk you meet in London on any given day, but certainly doesn’t match the character as described.

At first I was surprised by this, then I realized the degree of Mr. Vance’s talent.  Despite the discrepancy in his portrayal of her from what is described in the very text he is reading, I was not at all drawn out of the story by it.  Indeed, perhaps even the opposite.

The reason is simple, Vance’s portrayal matched the archetype of a kind of person I had met and talked to a hundred times.  From the moment I heard him read Lisbeth’s voice I understood a central piece of her socio-economic and educational background.  As her story unfolded, that was built upon, but why the tough in your face attitude as opposed to the tough cold fish attitude?  After all, that what is outlined in the text and exactly how both actresses who played the part on screen portrayed it…

And that is when the answer came to me: the actresses played the role on screen. Cinema and television are media where subtleties can be shown with minor facial expressions and sympathy can be built just by being attractive.  In an audiobook, a performer is not given that luxury.  Quite aside from being a man, Mr. Vance cannot show us what Lisbeth is like by raising an eyebrow or narrowing his eyes, he must portray her through what is said in the text and how he reads it.

Now, the text more than adequately describes Lisbeth, but if Vance were to have read her parts in a deadpan style, not only would it have it been a bit boring to listen to, we would have lost sympathy with her – as indeed many of the characters in the book did.

To that end, Simon Vance’s deep understanding of the audio medium is shown.  If he had read Lisbeth Salander in the manner she is described in the book, the listener would have been put off the character and most likely the whole story (she does, after all, have a lot of lines).  Instead, his choice of working class, street tough, in-your-face Londish accent, keeps the listener engaged with the tale and sympathetic to Lisbeth, but does not pull the listener out of the story despite the discrepancy.

Well done Mr. Vance… yet again you added to my enjoyment of a book.


[1] Indeed, I’ve heard comment the English translation is better than the original Swedish, but I have absolutely no basis upon which to judge that.

[2] That is to say, it is a bit of a “Death By Red Herring.” There are so many red herrings in the book you really could cut down the mightiest tree in the forest with them.

About Thomas Evans

I'm a writer of mysteries, espionage, and speculative fiction. In my previous incarnation I was an archaeologist specializing in gender and identity in Iron and Bronze Age Europe. Mostly, however, I was known for my works with the use of geomatics, multiscalular spatial analysis and landscape theory within archaeology.
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3 Responses to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson (Alfred A. Knopf, 2008 [translated by Reg Keeland]{Audible Audio Edition, Narrator: Simon Vance})

  1. Pingback: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo | The Candy Eating, Dress Loving, Red Haired Bookworm

  2. Pingback: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson | The Candy Eating, Dress Loving, Red Haired Bookworm

  3. Pingback: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo | The Day Dreamer and Candy EaterThe Day Dreamer and Candy Eater

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