I was devastated, the way only a selfish reader can be, to learn that Stieg Larsson died soon after delivering the first three manuscripts for the Millenium series to his publisher. Yes, it was a tragedy that the Swedish author never knew the global success of his books. But my sorrow was more at the loss of future instalments of this confronting series, of learning what happens next to Mikael Blomkvist and, more importantly, to Lisbeth Salanger, the girl with the dragon tattoo.
So it was with a frisson of hope that I cracked the spine of Stieg and Me by Eva Gabrielsson, Larsson’s partner of 32 years, and Marie-Francoise Colombani. The cover blurb hinted that the mystery of the fourth volume would be revealed. Were the rumours true? Could Gabrielsson possibly produce another Millenium book?
It didn’t take many pages for hope to be replaced by guilt at my participation in what Gabrielsson describes as the ‘Millenium industry’. She reveals that Larsson would have hated the way his books have been exploited, the mythology of ‘Stieg Larsson’ built up. The cynic might ask why Gabrielsson chose to feed that ‘industry’ with a book about Larsson. But this is no shallow money-spinner.
While Stieg and Me includes promised details about Larsson’s childhood in a remote cottage with strict grandparents, his fearless journalistic advocacy despite neo-Nazi death threats, their relationship and the inspiration behind the Millenium series, the pervading feeling is of disbelief at what happened after Larsson’s death in November, 2004.
Under Swedish law, because Gabrielsson and Larsson were not married, his entire estate, including the proceeds of the Millenium series, his political writings – to which she contributed – and his share of their apartment, were inherited by Larsson’s estranged father and brother.
This book is Gabrielsson’s attempt to set the record straight, to reclaim her voice, her significance in Larsson’s life, and to set out her moral claim for control of his intellectual property against the Larsson family, which is portrayed as cold and concerned only with the author’s money. In doing so, she has had to break a lifetime habit of secrecy and self-protection. The effort required to share intimate details about Larsson and their life together shimmers through every word. Yet there is little emotional engagement with the reader.
For much of the book, Gabrielsson’s language is spare and the tone that of a cooperative but unenthusiastic witness. It is only when the story progresses to Larsson’s death that raw grief radiates from the page and it becomes clear that this is not a memoir written from a reflective distance. There are plenty of interesting facts about Gabrielsson, Larsson and links between their lives and details in the Millenium books and that makes Stieg and Me a diverting read for fans of the series. But don’t expect to come away with any deep insight into Stieg Larsson, the man.
As for that fourth book, Gabrielsson says she probably could produce one. But I’m not holding my breath.