Long ago, I'd read The Laughing Policeman, a great novel by Maj Sjöwall & Per Wahlöö, Swedish journalists who married and started writing great crime fiction together. Later the book became a movie starring Walter Mathau. Thus, when Stieg Larsson, another Swedish journalist, came along with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I was primed to love it. I didn't. It had so much exposition and was so slow to start, I gave up after two chapters.
Then the book rose and stayed on the bestseller list, where it remains today. How was this possible? My mother, a mystery fan, said she'd read it and didn't like it, so how could so many other people get through it and recommend it?
When the subtitled Swedish movie came out (now on DVD), I had to see it to get a better understanding. The film was fabulous, and now that I had experienced the basic story, rich and complex, I mentioned to my cousin that I was going to try and read it again. Instead, his wife sent me the unabridged audiobook, read in many voices by Simon Vance. She also sent me audio versions of the remainder of the trilogy, and my world has opened up. I've learned a few things.
First is that I've discovered I really like audiobooks. I used to listen exclusively to NPR, but Larsson's books are so good, I'm happy when the traffic gets worse--more book to absorb. When I hit rush hour in Los Angeles, a 30-minute drive becomes 75 minutes, and I don't care anymore.
Also, with each book, Larsson became a better writer. The first was saddled with vast pages of exposition that lessened with each book. He become better at weaving it in. The third, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, is amazing. I find myself shouting "Oh, no!" or "Alright!" at major turns, and there are plenty. Each book is richly layered, and they each explore the too-often sad state of affairs between men and women.
Author Janet Fitch on Goodreads wrote, "I can see why it was a best-seller, the economic newsiness plus computer gadgetry/hacketry make it appealing to a male audience while the brilliant, dangerous Girl and a couple of decent love stories appeal to the female readership. It was readable in a single (longish) sitting--say, a day sick on the couch, a transatlantic flight or a desultory beach vacation, without the slightest brain-sweat. Tidy tidy ending, nothing really bad happens to anyone good, and a few ridiculous Hannibal Lectorish moments that were supposed to be scary. Nice feel for Sweden."
Ms. Fitch, whose Oprah's Club book White Oleander I adore, makes it seem as if the story is all plot and no charm, but I'm a convert to Stieg Larsson. The books put me on edge. They also have characters with depth, each major one deep with backstory, and it's fun to contrast Sweden and this country.
I also happened to have had a similar problem starting Fitch's new novel Paint It Black because in it, a young woman just lost her boyfriend to suicide, and she's so down-and-out, she's frozen into inactivity. I couldn't see where it was going. The book received great reviews, and Fitch writes with such strong imagery, that I must have not been in the right mood. I bought the audiobook version, read well by Jennifer Jason Leigh, and became a huge fan of that story, too. The young woman indeed starts becoming active in her depression. The audio form made the lyrically written sections stand out.
This isn't to say I don't like reading--I do--but audio is a great way to spend driving, and it lets me get through twice as many books as I usually do in a month. Maybe someone will make an audiobook version of The Brightest Moon of the Century. There are a lot of Angelinos who can use it.
By the way, today is the spring solstice, and the full moon last night (and tonight) makes for the brightest moon of this century so far. You can read about it by clicking here.
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