The girl who hated commercialisation
Eva Gabrielsson’s biography, Millennium, Stieg & I, is a bitter invective against profiteers from the ‘Stieg Larsson industry’ – yet it is also guilty of chipping away at the deceased author’s privacy.
Eva Gabrielsson, Millennium author Stieg Larsson’s partner of 32 years, is feeling vengeful. Her new biography, Millennium, Stieg & Jag (Millennium, Stieg and I), is not just an emotional tribute to the man she met, aged 18, at a solidarity meeting for the National Liberation Front for South Vietnam, and who became her soul mate. It is also a defensive invective against those she believes have turned Larsson into a posthumous cash cow by creating and milking a ‘Stieg Larsson industry’.
In this respect, writing a book about how the Millennium trilogy came about, and about Gabrielsson’s and the Larsson family’s vicious legal battle over the his estate, seems rather counterproductive. Because while hell may have no fury like a woman scorned, the ‘Stieg Larsson industry’ has no better thriving ground than all the tale-spinning around the Millennium characters, the sad faith of the author and the bitter dispute between those who survived him.
Millennium, Stieg and I brims with love, rage, despondency, pride and melancholy. Released in Sweden, Norway and France, with an English-language edition planned for June, it reveals details of Stieg’s life and ideals. But what will interest Larsson fans the most are the anecdotes Gabrielsson shares about the people, places and criminal cases that inspired the plots and characters in the Millennium trilogy – and, of course, Gabrielsson’s version of what happened after Larsson’s death.
The story is well known by now. Larsson, an anti-racist activist turned international crime fiction bestseller, was a hard-working campaigning journalist fond of cigarettes, coffee and junk food. In 2004, soon after submitting to his publisher three instalments of a planned 10-book series of crime thrillers set in Sweden, he suffered a massive heart attack. Larsson didn’t live to see his trilogy became a multimillion-pound generating, global phenomenon.
More likely to be caught up in mapping neo-Nazi networks, exposing violence against women and fighting for the extension of hate speech laws to the internet than in sorting out his own paper work, Larsson never wrote an official will. He and Gabrielsson had not married because of concerns (one may even say paranoia) over threats from right-wing groups. According to Gabrielsson, the pair’s decision not to wed and not to have children was a safety precaution. Yet while Larsson and his colleagues indeed received threats from neo-Nazis, it is not clear why the two imagined it would take a publicly registered marriage for right-wingers to cotton on to the fact that they were together. After all, many people knew about their relationship: they had been active in the same left-wing groups in their twenties, lived together for decades, sailed in a shared boat in the Stockholm archipelago every summer, and frequented the same cafés.
In any case, because of Swedish inheritance laws, Larsson’s estate and the right to administer his work and legacy went to his father and brother. But Gabrielsson believes she should be the one to guard the integrity of Larsson’s oeuvre – both the Millennium books and his journalism. Having declined an offer of 20million Swedish crowns (over £2million) from the Larssons, she claims to be interested only in putting the brakes on the commercialisation of Larsson’s work and in furthering the issues that he campaigned for – feminism, anti-racism, combating corruption.
In 2009, an investigative documentary for Swedish television estimated that the Stieg Larsson brand was worth over 100million Swedish crowns (around £10million). And that was before counting proceeds from the last part of the trilogy, and before the release of the second and third films – not to mention the forthcoming Hollywood version.
Since his death, a string of friends and complete strangers have published Larsson biographies; there is apparently a French comic book version of Millennium in the pipeline; and in Stockholm the City Museum organises weekly walking tours following ‘Stieg Larsson’s footsteps’. The trilogy has surely done wonders for the cafés, restaurants and corner stores that get name-checked in the books and that make up the pit stops on the walking tour. For instance, tour-goers stop by the trilogy hero Mikael Blomqvist’s favourite haunt, Mellqvists Kaffebar, where he scoffs sandwiches and coffee and pens investigative articles (as Larsson did in real life). When I took the tour, the guide revealed that the museum will soon launch a Stieg Larsson avatar, ‘a Tintin-like figure’, which Millennium fans can download and use as a virtual guide.
To Gabrielsson, such commercial success is horrifying. ‘I don’t want [Stieg Larsson’s] name to continue as an industry or become a brand’, she writes. ‘Everything is developing so fast that one day one might see Stieg’s image on a bottle of beer, a packet of coffee or a car. I don’t want his struggle and his ideals to be dragged through the mud and exploited… He would have resisted all this. And I’m going to do so, too.’
Gabrielsson’s sense of bereavement is understandable, but her scorn for any sign of ‘commercialisation’ of Larsson’s work comes across as bitter and disdainful. Millions of people around the world have read and loved the books, the film versions became blockbuster hits, and Larsson’s trilogy has even helped boost Sweden’s tourism industry. The guide on the Stieg Larsson walking tour told me that people from all over the world have been inspired to visit Sweden after reading the books. And they have sparked debate about chauvinism and some of Larsson’s other political bugbears. In fact, if anything, the books have been taken too seriously, with international observers having developed a compulsion to make trite comparisons with Millennium whenever covering a Swedish news story – whether they are commenting on Julian Assange’s romps in Stockholm or the former Swedish employment minister who resigned after a tabloid warned that it would run a story claiming he had paid for sex with a prostitute.
The Millennium books certainly contain political messages, but they are basically popular page-turners, perfect beach reads rather than philosophical tracts. And though their success has gone way beyond Larsson’s expectations, he did expect that the revenue from the books would support him and Gabrielsson in their retirement, as well as help safeguard the future of Expo, the magazine he edited and which was modelled on the British anti-racist publication Searchlight.
It seems Gabrielsson has come to identify with Lisbeth Salander, the Millennium trilogy’s female avenger who Larsson imagined as an adult version of Pippi Longstocking. As she writes: ‘For Stieg, Lisbeth Salander illustrated a deeply moral human being who could not act against her conviction. Like a Biblical arch angel, she became a tool for “God’s revenge”.’ This was also the working title of the fourth Millennium book, the mystery of which Gabrielsson promises to reveal as long as her demands are met.
Gabrielsson has not simply written Millennium, Stieg and I in order to rebut the Larsson family’s version of their legal battle and to criticise them for being too thick and uninvolved in Larsson’s life to understand the messages of his books. After all, she has done that many times before in the Swedish and international press. Instead, she uses the biography to position herself as Larsson’s partner in crime fiction, life and love, as the sole person with intimate knowledge of the many real-world references contained within Millennium and the one person on Earth who knew Larsson’s politics and principles as well as he did himself. She just about stops short of claiming to be the co-author of Millennium. And so, she suggests, who could be better positioned – morally and practically – to complete the fourth novel in the series, which is supposedly stored in a laptop that Gabrielsson refuses to hand over to Larsson’s father and brother…?
For the most part, Gabrielsson is measured and sparse in her divulgences, though it is curious that she both lauds her dead lover’s careful guarding of his privacy and shares his childhood memories, dreams for the future and private letters. When, towards the end of her book, she describes cursing her enemies during a pagan ritual on the new year’s eve following Larsson’s death, and her belief that a raven that flew over her when she was crying on a desolate beach had been sent by the Asa God Odin, it’s tempting to think that the Larssons’ version of the events could be the more reasonable after all.
In the end, it is impossible for outsiders to determine who’s right and who’s been wronged in this very public family dispute, played out in grim detail in the media. (It seems that for every interview Gabrielsson gives, Larsson’s brother gives one, too – and vice versa.) It’s a sorry saga, but that doesn’t detract from the happy ending of the Millennium trilogy itself: a rip-roaring success that has put Sweden on the map for millions of readers and travellers.
All above citations from Millennium, Stieg & Jag have been translated from Swedish. The forthcoming English-language edition of the book is titled There Are Things I Want You to Know About Stieg Larsson and Me.
Nathalie Rothschild is an international correspondent for spiked. Visit her personal website here.
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