Thursday, December 1, 2011

Things I Want You To Know About Eva Gabrielsson's Book

Stieg Larsson wrote some great books, and like the main character in his Millenium/Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, Mikael Blomkvist, he was a tireless activist, leftist, feminist, and overall muckraker. According to his widow, Eva Gabrielsson, Larsson was not the same person as his alter ego, but Blomkvist was the journalist Larsson wished he had been.


That's one interesting thing I learned from Gabrielsson's book, "There Are Things I Want You To Know" About Stieg Larsson and Me.

Sadly, the book is more interesting as a primary source than as a literary work. The writing is as tortured and confusing as the title. It brings up more questions than it enlightens. Like, why are the first eight words of the title in quotes?

It's hard for me to get a handle on the tone of the book. I wanted to like her, and I really want to feel for her. She was Larsson's companion for 32 years. They never had kids or got married, but lived together for 30 years. When he died suddenly (of a heart attack at 50 years old), just before the first of his three (already written) books was published, she was not only left without the primary presence in her life, but it also lead to a dispute over his estate and the rights to his works with his father and brother.


I can't imagine how devastating and heartbreaking his sudden death must have been for her. And it sounds like his father and brother betrayed her and Stieg, trying to capitalize on the work of someone who, although closely related by blood, they did not understand very well. Because Larsson and Gabrielsson never married, she didn't get the rights to his works.

Brother and father Larsson. I have to admit, it's hard to look at this picture and imagine evil greedy Swedes.

It's a messy, complicated situation.

And yet, there are things about "There Are Things I Want You To Know..." that just bug me. It seems to ramble in lots of different directions, address questions I never had, as if she is responding to a heckler I can't hear. As if she's presenting a case to a jury, but we're only hearing half the conversation. There's a defensive, secretive, disjointed tone that you often get from crazy people.

Let me stress here: I don't know any of these people. I don't know Stieg, I don't know Eva, I don't know his father or his brother. All I have to go on is what Eva's written in her book. I obviously defer to her about what Stieg was like and what he would have wanted. And it's certainly within the realm of possibility that his father and brother are greedy relatives who just want to cash in on his work. I'm just saying that the narrator of her book comes across, sometimes, as an unreliable character. She puts details in the book that seem irrelevant, and then leaves out things that seem important.

She writes a lot about how their life together influenced his crime novels. She lists people, places, and things from his real life that appear in the books. She stresses all the things from the books that she has a personal connection to, as if to tell the jury, "See? I was important! He made a reference to me here, and here, and here!"

But one big question she never addresses, one I kept having, was Mikael Blomkvist's relationship with Erika Berger, an unusual but very close "open relationship" with a married woman. How much of that was fiction? Blomkvist is a commitment-phobe who gets a lot of women, but Gabrielsson never addresses this side of Larsson's alter ego in her book. It is a conspicuous omission. As if she is saying, "There are things I don't want you to know about Stieg Larsson and me."

And then there are the strains of anger and revenge throughout the book. Gabrielsson has a disturbing fixation on revenge. Granted, she says this is how Stieg was, and in that, I'll defer to her. She even goes so far as to perform an ancient Norse revenge ritual on some mysterious enemy of Stieg's, whom she never names, nor does she explain what heinous thing this person did. It's a bizarre chapter and makes for bad writing. Someone did something horrible, and they knew who they are, so let me tell you in detail about the ritual I performed.

I understand that she objects to the Stieg Larsson industry that has cropped up since his death. It seems to go against so much of what he stood for, and that must be painful for her. I'm sympathetic. On the other hand, I'm torn, because if it weren't for that industry, I might not have been exposed to his books, which I really enjoyed.

If nothing else, Gabrielsson's book has piqued my curiosity. I have to admit I haven't read anything else about this story, or even reviews of her book, before writing this post. I could be missing lots of stuff. Now I'd like to read what other people have written about Larsson, to see what a good writer and real journalist has to say about the situation. (There are a surprising number of biographies about him. The story behind his books seems almost as amazing as the ones he wrote.) I accept that, as Eva says, these people never knew Stieg, but maybe she is simply too close to him to present a coherent story.


Dan S said...

So you want her to be a good writer, but she isn't. Remember that people's writing personalities can be quite different from their real-life personalities. And even if she's a bad writer, or a bad person, she was still screwed by her in-laws and Swedish law.

Those damn Swedes.

Tim said...

Good point. Even if she's a horrible person, that doesn't excuse an injustice against her. On the other hand, an unreliable witness casts doubt that an injustice occurred. Are we getting the whole story? I've read interviews with the father and brother, and they come across as fishy, too. The whole situation is messed up.

Oh, and I just got your reference to "those damn Swedes." Very funny.