July 12, 2011
Eva Gabrielsson and Stieg Larsson spent 32 years together in Sweden and were soul mates, collaborators and fellow travelers. But one thing they were not was husband and wife, a fact that became critical when Larsson died unexpectedly in 2004 at the age of 50. That Larsson wrote an improbably successful trilogy of novels that began with “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” and went on to sell more than 50 million books worldwide complicated every aspect of his passing.
Sweden has no “automatic right of inheritance” provision for common-law spouses, so Larsson’s brother and father have come to control his lucrative literary estate. Gabrielsson’s book, “‘There Are Things I Want You to Know’ About Stieg Larsson and Me,” is an attempt to regain custody of Larsson’s legacy, not only from his family but also from a world hungry to commercialize his every aspect, with films both Swedish and American, companion books and journalistic examinations of the “Girl” phenomenon and the man who created it.
Famous only in death, Larsson was a fervent feminist, an author of numerous books and articles about right-wing Swedish extremism, and a socialist to his core. As Gabrielsson explains, much of his life’s work was embodied in Expo, a small political magazine that struggled to stay afloat. The crime novels were “like therapy,” she writes. “He was describing Sweden the way it was and the way he saw the country: the scandals, the oppression of women, the friends he cherished and wished to honor.”
Fans of his books looking for an intimate peek into the life of a man who summoned a dark, scary version of Sweden will not be disappointed, but that understanding does not come easily. The book is a short, highly emotional tour though a widow’s grief and dispossession, and the details of the couple’s life together are jarringly juxtaposed with blood feuds and score-settling.
That is not to say Gabrielsson is an unreliable narrator — the truth of what she says seems to come off every page — just that she is a very difficult one to follow. She lurches from describing the man she loved to the physical and political milieu they moved through in ways that hint at connections rather than making them. But the danger lurking around every corner in “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” and its siblings can be found here as well. Gabrielsson writes that neo-Nazis left death threats on the couple’s answering machine and sent bullets in the mail, and suggests that part of the reason the two of them never married was that it would have made Larsson an easier target for his opponents on the right.
In the main, the things in “‘There Are Things I Want You to Know’” will be of interest to Larsson completists and obsessives — readers who care about details like which coffee shops in the fiction were also part of Larsson’s daily life. (“Nowadays I never drink coffee at home by myself,” Gabrielsson notes ruefully. “I’ve switched to tea.”) People with an adjacency to fame often try to glom onto a piece of it, but Gabrielsson is up to something more ambitious and personal. To everyone else, Larsson came out of nowhere, but she knows better and suggests that the Millennium trilogy is of a piece with the rest of his life.
While the novels observe some conventions of the crime genre — mysteries are fashioned, and head feints keep readers on their toes — as a whole they often break with custom. In particular, women, who often serve as mere accessories in fictions pivoting around conspiracy and crime, were fully drawn by Larsson, whether victims or perpetrators. Lisbeth Salander, damaged and secretive, emerges as a bisexual, punk-rock Pippi Longstocking who exacts revenge with precision and alacrity. She’s a sexy, vengeful archangel who refuses to be objectified or owned.
Mikael Blomkvist, the other hero of the trilogy, is the crusading journalist who fights under onerous circumstances to find the truth. To her credit, Gabrielsson makes it clear that Larsson was no Blomkvist. One of the more remarkable aspects of her odd, idiosyncratic book is that she goes to some length to show how different Larsson was from his literary confection. Yes, he was a dedicated journalist, a self-defined feminist and a man who believed that corporate self-dealing tore at the social contract — he was also, as Gabrielsson points out, “constantly drinking coffee, smoking and working like a fiend, but the resemblance basically stops there.”
Read the entire article at the New York Times website.