I sort of splurged with this one:
That is the UK box set of Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy, published in this edition by MacLehose Press/Quercus last month. It comprises all three books in the trilogy – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, to give them their largely inaccurate English titles (more on that at the end of this post) – printed as cloth-cased hardbacks, sans dustjackets, along with a fourth slim volume titled Afterword – Stieg Larsson: Four Essays and an Exchange of E-Mails, plus a fold-out poster of the various cover designs of the original books.
I doubt Larsson needs much introduction at this point; if you've ventured onto any form of public transport in the UK recently you'll have seen someone reading one of his three novels, and I imagine it's a similar story in the States (and indeed many other countries). As with much contemporary fiction, however, the Larsson express kind of passed me by. It's only in the last few years that I've really rediscovered my love of novels, and much of that time has been dedicated to excavating the genre fiction of the previous century. In theory, though, Larsson is (or rather was; he died in 2004) an author who should punch all my buttons: he wrote a trilogy of intelligent thrillers with a journalistic and political bent, and the heroine of those novels has been likened to Peter O'Donnell's character Modesty Blaise. So, y'know: firmly within my sphere of interest. (Although I suspect I might've slightly ruined the first book in the trilogy anyway by watching Niels Arden Oplev's rather spiffing 2009 movie adaptation, which is reportedly very faithful. So it goes.)
And in truth I have debated picking up the Larsson books before... but by the time I cottoned on to him, first editions – first British editions, that is – of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo were selling for hundreds, even thousands, of pounds, despite it only being published in Britain in 2008 (it was originally published in Sweden in 2005). And as we all no doubt know by now, I'm usually psychologically incapable of buying anything other than a first edition, and even more so when a book is so recent. Happily, Quercus have solved that problem for me with this box set, because each book inside the box is a first edition – and first printing – in this format. So not only do you get all three books in the trilogy in hardback – plus the supplementary volume and poster, which I'll come back to in a moment – but each one is first thus too.
The publisher has done a nice job with the design of the books as well; as you can see, each one has a debossed gold foil dragon on the front cover, and each has a map printed on the endpapers:
The Afterword volume is almost worth the price of admission alone (a price which, despite my opening sentence for this post, isn't actually too bad: less than forty quid on Amazon). I haven't read the essays yet, but the email exchanges between Larsson and his original Swedish publisher and editors are fascinating, particularly for anyone interested in the mechanics of modern publishing. These begin with a couple of longish missives from Larsson on technical issues – specs for the books, extent, permissions, etc. – and the content and characters of the three novels, and end with a short, bittersweet note where the author relays his gratification that the publishers are so enthusiastic about the trilogy. That final email was sent on 28 October, 2004, twelve days before Larsson's death, and a year before the first novel saw print.
There's a curious but enlightening publisher's note at the back of the Afterword volume, which runs thus:
"On the copyright page of each volume in the trilogy is a translation of the original Swedish titles. The English and American editions have titles which I learned too late would not necessarily have been approved by the author. Their popularity does not diminish my regret that he would rather have named the first book otherwise. On the accompanying poster it will be seen (by linguists) that the Swedish titles posed more questions to translators than were susceptible of a common solution."
I love the parenthetical "by linguists" there: nothing like catering to an infinitesimally tiny proportion of one's readership. And I can confirm that the poster, while interesting for the various cover designs from various countries it shows, doesn't shed much light on the translations of the three books' titles unless you're fluent in Latvian, Korean, Estonian... Which, having said that, and judging by the stats for Existential Ennui I see behind the scenes, some of the readers of this blog may well be. For the record, those original titles translate as, in order, Men who hate women, The girl who played with fire, and The castle of air that was blown up. Mm, yeah, I can see why two of those might have been problematic for English language publishers and baffling for the general public. Men who hate women might've worked, in a perverse sort of way, but The castle of air that was blown up sounds like a Miyazaki movie. I wonder if the books would have become the bestsellers they have with those original titles...?