The Girl Who Played With Fire by Steig Larson read by Simon Vance

Quiet, patient, relentless intelligence spills over the pages of this story about a girl geek, a journalist, a news magazine devoted to the critique of corrupt Swedish institutions, and an odd assemblage of  Stockholm’s thugs, bureaucrats, intellectuals, and cops.   None are verbose. Men and women think. Thinking happens without talk, without sounds, without annunciation. It is sometimes   signaled  by cigarettes. Sometimes by a  walk.   Much goes unsaid, and unshared.

All the good guys use Macs. Some of them smoke.  The geek uses a powerbook, the journalist a Mac ibook, the magazine editor  an Airbook. The geekgirl (Salander) is  skinny,  occasionally violent,  abnormally intelligent, obsessively private. She does not emote; she enjoys:  mathematics, sex, hacking.  She has  lesbian girlfriends, bank accounts in the Canary Islands, lawyers in Gibraltar, and a local accountant. She buys a 2.5 million kroner flat with a view and decorates it in one day of shopping in Ikea,   for a total of 97,000 kroner.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larson read by Simon Vance

“Salander was not a normal person.” Bandied about from one institution to another,  she has a casebook full of entries written by social workers, psychiatrists, administrators: serious Swedish officials. Because she does not speak, she is assumed to be stupid. She is not. Because she looks too young, she is assumed to be innocent. She is not. She is a child of the institution, its data and its archives, and she is at home among data, at home with texts. She rents her mother’s old flat, somewhere in Stockholm, and feeds herself like a latchkey child: thick bread sandwiches with cheese and liverwurst. She is contracted by a security firm to find confidential information and report it, piecemeal. One day she is assigned a case.

The Echo Maker by Richard Powers read by Bernadette Dunne

She is a portrait of competence. She works for the big distributor of computers that packaged itself after cows. She has a knack for customer relations. She enjoys convincing users, individual by individual, that the big company wants nothing more than to make nice and relate, long term. She has removed all excess from her life, all things huge, or insubstantial.

We find her in a hospital room waiting for her brother to come back to life, as if she is watching some overlong Swedish film… A problematic brother, liked by animals, but “…when it came to humans no one knew what to make of the boy…. “. The problematic boy, Mark, has been damaged.

The language is full bodied, rich, ripe, generously given. All in good time. Bernadette Dunne, as usual, is remarkable. She narrates people thinking in low, cool tones, as if she were playing jazz for a small group of friends.

Slowly, slowly, the author mixes in big words, medical words, technical words to explain the misadventures and mistakes of the brain, configuring the brain as a fabulous animal which never stays the same. Mark’s brain is not what it was before the accident; it cannot recognize the familiar as familiar, cannot recognize his sister as the same sister, his friends as the same friends, his dog as the same dog. This misrecognition effects another: the sister who is not recognized by her brother slowly doubts her own identity, which dissolves into a piece of a town, a piece of a bed, a piece of a river…

In the middle of fields of Nebraska wheat, one theory of the brain folds into another, from a brain that tells stories, to a brain which functions like boy scouts waving their flashlights in the dark, to the brain as a series of mappings of other brain-maps,

My brain, all those split parts trying to convince each other, dozens of lost scouts waving crappy flashlights in the woods at night….

The brother, the sister, his girlfriend, a nurse’s aid, a cognitive neurologist from SUNY Stony Brook having a mid-life identity crisis…all of them unable to recognize themselves, unable, too, to recognize other beings, or other species… Hence, too, an ecological crisis: all species depend upon recognition, or go extinct….