Wednesday, October 26, 2011

“There Are Things I Want You To Know” about Stieg Larsson and Me

“There Are Things I Want You To Know” about Stieg Larsson and Me
by Eva Gabrielsson, translated from the French by Linda Coverdale

Eva Gabrielsson lived thirty years of her life with Stieg Larsson, most known for the Millennium Trilogy - The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. Unfortunately, Stieg Larsson died unexpectedly at the age of 50, and would not live to even see the first one in print.

Even more unfortunately for those left behind, Eva and Stieg never married, and Stieg did not have a will.  Under Swedish law, since they had no children, Eva was left with no claim to anything, and the rights to his novels went to his brother and father.

Almost everything I will say from this point forward will come from Eva Gabrielsson's mouth.  From her tone throughout this book, I gather that this has not been remedied to her satisfaction, and that this has been quite a legal and social battle.  Not having the access to fully fact check what she has claimed, I'd hate to just jump to her defense, but it is difficult not to. The way she tells it, Stieg was raised by his grandparents, and his contact with his brother and father was negligible.  They would not have known him well enough to know his wishes for his work, but were given both the royalties as well as what is called "moral rights" in Sweden, similar to our intellectual property rights - the right to recreate, etc.  All the details and insight and connections Eva makes leave little space for her not to have had a very close, very intimate relationship with Stieg. 

Outside of the legal battles, and the internal battle I'm currently having about watching the American version of the film in December (according to Eva, Stieg never wished movies to be made out of these books at all... is it naive to hope he would have changed his mind?), the rest of the book adds so much to the experience of the Millennium Trilogy.  His writing of the books (and actually, he had plans for several more, and had already started #4) came from people he knew, situations he'd seen, and places he had experienced.  The story itself is not a true story, but there is a lot of truth to it.  For that information alone, this book is more than worth a read.  I was most interested by the parallels between Blomkvist and Larsson, and Salander and Larsson. 

I have to admit to not knowing much about Sweden, and I tend to idealize it in my head.  The Sweden of the Millennium Trilogy, and of Stieg Larsson and Eva Gabrielsson, is much darker, much scarier, and their lives were in jeopardy constantly because of the work they were doing.  Intrigue!  Death threats!  Power struggles!  I was fascinated by that part of their story, and I know I'll be paying more attention to Sweden in the news.  Granada too.  (Don't get me started.  The amount I don't know about the history of my lifetime is shameful).  Eva Gabrielsson also recommends two authors from Sweden that also write crime novels set in the same basic northern landscape that Larsson did, so I will be checking them out too (Per Olov Enquist and Torgny Lindgren).

One fact that made me very happy was learning about their love of science fiction.  I hope she won't mind me quoting her quite extensively from one page:
"In addition to politics, Stieg and I had long shared a common passion for science fiction. Our favorite authors were Robert Heilein and Samuel R. Delany, and I had translated into Swedish Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle, which describes what the world would be like if the Nazis had won World War II.  As soon as we'd moved to Stockholm, we'd joined the largest Swedish science fiction fan club, the SFSF (Skandinavisk Förening för Science Fiction), a friendly and varied collection of likeable weirdos, all of them crazy about SF.  We fit right in....  We were dreamers, fascinated by the alternative universes we found in that literature. Especially when they become real on the Internet. Published in 1992, Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash is a good example of the cyberpunk milieu reflected in the cybernetic world of the hacker republic in which Lisbeth Salander is a model citizen...."
Yes!  I hadn't made the connection, but I loved Snow Crash, and I loved the Millennium Trilogy.  There really is a significant similarity there.  So funny to have that connection made for me so soon after (two days after!) finishing Reamde by Neal Stephenson.

One interesting theme to the book that I just didn't expect was that of revenge.  According to Eva, Stieg believed heavily in revenge, and she believes he demonstrates this through the characters in the Millennium Trilogy as well.  To help her own emotional journey through grieving Stieg, Eva researched and put on a traditional Icelandic nið, which is basically a curse or revenge poem based in Skaldic poetry.  She includes the text of what she wrote and a description of the ritual her group of friends had, and it was raw and painful, but somehow it made perfect sense that the woman Stieg loved would go to that kind of extreme.  It was a very Lisbeth Salander thing to do.

I do think this is worth the read.  The end gets a little fragmented and she throws in her journals and some letter segments, making it feel like she was rushing to have it published, but I suspect that is true.  Part of me wishes she'd had more distance between his death and writing this, but something tells me that her honest emotions are part of what brings Stieg to life so clearly.

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