To be a widow is tragic; to be a widow without portfolio is a nightmare. On Nov. 9, 2004, Swedish architect Eva Gabrielsson lost the man she had loved for 32 years; with whom she had partnered and cohabited; with whom she had been designing their dream cottage, where they were to spend the rest of their summers together.
She and Stieg Larsson never married, but that seemed an unimportant formality compared with their deep experience together — especially in Sweden, that iconic polity of progressive, feminist values. Unimportant, that is, until the crime trilogy Larsson sold to a Swedish publisher shortly before his unexpected death became a global bestselling phenomenon. The Hollywood adaptation of the first book, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” is coming soon to a theater near you.
In “ ‘There Are Things I Want You to Know’ About Stieg Larsson and Me,” Gabrielsson tells her story. Unfortunately, the slim volume reads more like a court defense and less, as one might hope, as a remembrance of a writer whom millions of readers have come to love but know precious little about.
Bereaved and depressed after Larsson’s death, Gabrielsson found herself in an epic, public war with Larsson’s father and brother over the writer’s increasingly valuable estate. She was a widow emotionally, but legally, she was a concubine — without any inheritance rights. Family and partner fought ugly battles in the European media. Gabrielsson continues to wield her most powerful, if dubiously ethical, weapon: She refuses to help finish the next books in the series, or to answer where Larsson’s missing computer — with the unfinished manuscripts — is, until she’s given control of his literary estate. The issue is not money, she says, but her ability to guard her partner’s artistic integrity.
Gabrielsson does recall her personal life with Larsson: the prosaic details of their devotion to coffee, and the bigger picture of their shared political passions (Trotskyism, anti-racism, feminism). “Politics with him was not a chore or a duty, the way I’d thought it would be, but a real pleasure — which was something of a rare experience in our austere milieu,” she writes. The book’s title refers to a line Larsson penned about his character Lisbeth Salander, that Gabrielsson claims is a saying of hers. She leaves little doubt that theirs was a committed relationship, while also explaining the fears of right-wing violence that deterred them from formalizing and publicizing their bond.
Unfortunately, a tone of bitterness underpins Gabrielsson’s humorless writing. While some of Larsson’s associates have dismissed her role in his life, others have overplayed it, saying she must have been a co-writer of his books. She certainly emphasizes her role in their creative process. Yet “There Are Things” bears no traces of Larsson’s detailed, passionate writing style. The only vivid passage is when she casts an elaborate old Norse curse on Larsson’s enemies; it involves a leg of lamb, aquavit and some ceramic horses. “I realized that my catharsis would pass through the writing of a nio (pronounced nee), a traditional curse, which I would recite during a magic ceremony.” The nio sounds like something Salander would pull — though this passage might also bolster Larsson’s family’s critiques of her sanity.
“There Are Things” is a sad tome, about a tragic loss compounded by betrayal, exploitation and greed. Larsson, who was 50 when he died, would have leapt to defend a wronged woman like Gabrielsson with excoriating prose. She needs him now, more than ever.