Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Audiobooks Review: The Millennium Series by Stieg Larsson, read by Simon Vance

Audiobooks Reviewed by Christina
(We had a guest review of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo here)

Published: In Swedish: 2005-2007. English translation by Reg Keeland: 2008-2010

It's about: Unless you've been living under a rock for the last few years, you've probably already heard all about this hugely popular series of thrillers. So I'll be brief: the central characters are a determined journalist named Mikael Blomqvist and an antisocial hacker named Lisbeth Salander. Working together and separately they investigate and expose corrupt businessmen, murderers, thugs, and other bad guys.

I thought: Well. There's a lot to say about the Millennium series, and it's pretty much all been said by now. I guess I should start by admitting that I don't read thrillers or mysteries very often, so I'm not in a position to judge this series against others of its type. But I did enjoy listening to these books; the stories and characters caught my attention, and I can understand why they're so popular. The writing style is adequate, not masterful or artful, and I'd say the same about the translation. That's fine with me, and even suits the genre; I don't need flowery prose in a murder mystery.

I like the idea of the activism behind the books; Larsson's goal was to shine a light on the surprising rates of violence against women in Sweden, and the books are peppered with relevant facts and figures. I loved that Lisbeth, herself a victim of said violence, played a major role in obtaining justice for the various crimes perpetrated against women. Lisbeth intrigued me, and I'm sorry there aren't more books about her.

But there are plenty of things I didn't love about this trilogy. The first book is thrilling, but poorly paced, with a denouement that lasts ages. The second, The Girl Who Played With Fire, is the strongest in the series, but the third book has almost no story of its own- it's like an extremely long and boring epilogue for book two. That is, until the actual epilogue to book three, which is when we finally get some action. None of the characters really develop or change throughout the series, though I guess it could be argued that Larsson was planning a broad character arc or two that he meant to stretch through all 10 planned books. (He died suddenly, before completing the fourth installment.) I grew annoyed with several impossible plot points that I can't mention without revealing major spoilers. I also rolled my eyes repeatedly at the way nearly every female character who comes into close contact with Blomqvist throws herself at him and MAKES him sleep with her. Come ON.

BUT! Simon Vance is INCREDIBLE. He is, hands down, the best audiobook reader I've ever listened to. Each character has a distinct voice with a socio-economically and culturally appropriate accent, and that's saying something because there are a LOT of characters in these books. And the difference between each voice is subtle; I can't think of a single one that annoyed me or seemed hackneyed. The women sound like women without being squeaky; the foreigners have accents without sounding ridiculous. Honestly, I was amazed by his versatility and ability to change timbre and inflection at the drop of a hat.

Verdict: In Between. I liked the series, but I can only think of a few people to whom I'd recommend it very enthusiastically.

Reading Recommendations: The new movie from last year is so well done that I'd almost recommend seeing The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo rather than reading it. But if you're looking for a good thrilling audiobook, Simon Vance's performance won't disappoint.
(I haven't seen the Swedish movies yet, but I've heard they're also very faithful.)

Warnings: Language, graphic violence (including sexual violence) and all kinds of disturbing subject matter.

What I'm listening to next: I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith