Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Stieg Larsson

After finishing Eva Gabrielsson's new memoir, you do indeed know certain things about Stieg Larsson, her partner of 32 years.
For instance, had the Swedish writer lived to see his Millennium Trilogy published instead of dying of a heart attack at age 50 in 2004, his books probably would still be best sellers in the USA, but Lisbeth Salander wouldn't be known as The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
Instead we'd be reading Men Who Hate Women(Larsson's own title and the one first used by his Swedish publisher).
Why? Because Larsson, who prided himself on his feminist cred, would have considered it demeaning to call a 24-year-old woman a girl. Even a fictional heroine.
Writing in a memorably austere, flinty voice, Gabrielsson has produced neither a tell-all nor some "handmaiden to literary genius" emo-gusher.
You learn that Larsson loved java, sci-fi and investigative journalism. And — to judge by the length of their relationship and one exquisite love letter that she read at his memorial — he loved Gabrielsson, an architect by training.
The couple met in 1972, when both were 18, at a Vietnam War protest, and they remained together until his death. They never married. You learn a lot about his fight against neo-Nazis but nothing about life behind the bedroom door, which is kind of refreshing.
But if you are obsessed with Larsson's writing, not the man, dig in.
After Larsson was born in 1954, his parents moved 600 miles away for work. He was left with his maternal grandparents in a two-room house on the edge of a forest, without water, electricity, indoor plumbing or heat other than a wood stove.
He loved this world where self-reliance and honesty, not money, were valued, Gabrielsson writes. When he was 9, Larsson rejoined his family, which by then included a younger brother.
His career as a journalist and novelist was equally unconventional. Imagine a Columbia School of Journalism reject without a college degree who works in the graphics department of The New York Times and spends his free time editing a struggling left-wing magazine.
A chain-smoking mystery fan, he relaxed by writing fiction about a computer hacker based on his beloved Pippi Longstocking. (Gabrielsson stresses that the deeply enmeshed couple often wrote together. )
Because they never married, Larsson's estate went to his brother and father. With each day generating more moolah, how can this trio not work out a compromise?
For Gabrielsson, the battle isn't about money; it's about Larsson's literary inheritance and a missing laptop, which may or may not hold an unfinished fourth novel. Deliberately coy about where the laptop is, Gabrielsson does say the fourth book presents a journey of healing for Lisbeth.
Gabrielsson comes across as rigid, obsessed and humorless but a fierce warrior in fighting for what she sees as justice.
Not unlike Larsson's own heroine.

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