By CHARLES McGRATH
Published: June 21, 2011
Eva Gabrielsson, who found herself pursued by fame and controversy as the longtime companion of Stieg Larsson, the posthumously best-selling author of the Millennium trilogy of Swedish crime thrillers, has published a book of her own. In Linda Coverdale’s English translation, the book, which first came out in French in January and is now available in the United States from Seven Stories Press, has the direct, plainspoken title “ ‘There Are Things I Want You to Know’ About Stieg Larsson and Me.” (The quotation is a reference to a letter that Larsson wrote to Ms. Gabrielsson in the 1970s, when he was in his 20s, and about to leave for Africa.)
The memoir’s straightforward tone and terse, unadorned style are unlikely to provide much support for the conspiracy theorists who are convinced that Larsson was not talented enough to come up with the Millennium books on his own and that Ms. Gabrielsson must have written them for him.
Nor will the book, which she wrote with Marie-Françoise Colombani, provide much satisfaction for the many Larsson fans eager for details about an unfinished fourth novel said to have been left on his computer after his death. The book’s biggest news is its description of how the seemingly mild-mannered Ms. Gabrielsson has attempted to seek supernatural vengeance against her enemies.
In New York on Monday, the first stop on a promotional tour for her new book, Ms. Gabrielsson seemed relaxed and even cheerful, sipping Pellegrino and sneaking a couple of smokes at an outside table at Capsouto Frères, a bistro in TriBeCa, carefully pinching the butts and sticking them back in the pack. She talked forthrightly about the oddest passage in her book, a description of an elaborate Viking curse she delivered on New Year’s Eve 2004 against all her and Larsson’s enemies: the false friends, the cowards “who let Stieg fight your battles while you raked in the salaries of your cushy jobs,” the wearers of “suits, ties and wingtips,” the evil ones “who plotted, spied and stirred up prejudice.”
Traditionally, such curses were accompanied by the sacrifice of a live horse, but instead Ms. Gabrielsson broke a ceramic horse sculpture in two and tossed it into Lake Malaren in Stockholm. Nevertheless, it worked, she insisted.
“I felt immense relief, and so did the others who were with me,” she said, explaining, “It’s a ritual — we lack rituals for grief, for confusion, for rage.” She added, with satisfaction, that “all the people who have profited from Stieg in his lifetime — they have not fared well. Bad things happen to them. I don’t want to attribute that to the curse, but they are in trouble.”
Larsson, a Swedish writer and journalist, died unexpectedly in November 2004, when he was just 50, and had no idea how successful his books — “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Girl Who Played With Fire” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” — would become. He and Ms. Gabrielsson had lived together for 32 years — they were “soul mates,” she says in the book — but never wed, and because they were childless, and because Swedish law makes no provision for common-law marriage, she had no legal right to his estate, now worth tens of millions of dollars.
Everything went to his father and brother, Erland and Joakim Larsson, who have been locked for years now in an increasingly stubborn and acrimonious battle of wills with her. Ms. Gabrielsson says she is not interested in the money; what she wants is artistic control over Larsson’s literary rights. Larsson’s family, meanwhile, has been reluctant to share any part of the legacy.
“I have no idea how it will end,” Ms. Gabrielsson said. “Life surprises you. People surprise me all the time.”
Though in the book she complains harshly about what she calls the “Stieg industry” and expresses reservations about the way the original movie deal for the books was made, she seemed curious about the English-language version of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” directed by David Fincher, that had been filming in Stockholm.
“Friends of mine have stumbled over the film crews and have sent me text messages,” she said. “They’re taking care to find very good locations, and so it might be interesting. They’re very ambitious — I like that.”
Ms. Gabrielsson’s book does not throw much new light on her bitter stalemate with Larsson’s father and brother, during which they have tried to obtain from her a crucial remaining piece of the estate: Larsson’s laptop, with the unfinished novel saved on the hard drive. There were two meetings in spring 2010, she said, and then, in June 2010, the Larssons broke off all negotiations, and she hasn’t heard from them since.
“It’s still incomprehensible to me,” she said, explaining that Larsson’s family initially seemed to side with her claim to Larsson’s estate and then, months after his death of a heart attack, claimed the entire inheritance for themselves. “Envy is the only mortal sin that goes toward destruction and murder, and I think there was a lot of envy there,” Ms. Gabrielsson said. “Envy of Stieg, envy of his success — that’s the best explanation I can offer.”
Ms. Gabrielsson said she had not read the unfinished fourth novel, and was evasive about the whereabouts of the computer. She has estimated that the manuscript consists of roughly 200 pages, based on how much Larsson had finished by August 2004, and from their conversations she knows what it’s about. But all she would say is that it’s set in Canada, and that once again it features Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist. “Oh yes, they’re still there,” she said, laughing.
A year ago Ms. Gabrielsson was adamant that she didn’t want the fourth novel ever to be published. In her book she appears open to the possibility of finishing it herself. “I cannot tell exactly what part of ‘The Millennium Trilogy’ comes from Stieg and what comes from me,” she writes, adding: “I can only say that just as Stieg and I shared a common language, we often wrote together.”
But more recently she has seemed of two minds. “I’ve been wondering if it’s such a good thing to finish something like that,” she said on Monday. “Nobody needs any more money — that’s one thing. And it must be any author’s nightmare to know that characters you created might be used by ghostwriters. It’s a dilemma. I don’t think it’s right, but at the same time I really would like to see what happens to these people.”
She paused. “How long are we going to kid ourselves? Stieg is dead. Maybe we just have to accept that — all the readers and me, too.”