The woman who loved Stieg Larsson

Eva Gabrielsson first met the author in 1972, when both were 18. Asked often if there is a fourth Millennium book, she says yes and no.
Eva Gabrielsson first met the author in 1972, when both were 18. Asked often if there is a fourth Millennium book, she says yes and no.
Posted: May 30, 2012

He was the author of wildly popular mysteries, and Stieg Larsson himself remains a mystery.

Dead of a heart attack a year before the first book in his Millennium trilogy was published, he’s simply a name on a book spine, a photo on a flyleaf; to media conglomerates, his work is a lucrative brand (65 million copies sold, four films, and two more on the way).

To Eva Gabrielsson, he was a lover, an intellectual sparring partner, an ardent political activist.

An architect who was Larsson’s partner for 32 years, Gabrielsson tries to give flesh to the Larsson myth in a memoir, "There Are Things I Want You to Know" about Stieg Larsson and Me. She will discuss the book Thursday at the Free Library of Philadelphia in a program moderated by Inquirer reporter John Timpane.

Cowritten by Marie-Françoise Colombani, "There Are Things" is a clean, crisp narrative that offers a digest of Larsson’s early life, his work as a journalist and political activist, and his relationship with Gabrielsson.

It also features an invaluable guide to the real-life events, people — even street names — that Larsson fictionalized in his novels: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest.

Gabrielsson, 58, concludes with a chronicle of the pitched battle she fought (and lost) with Larsson’s father, Erland, and brother, Joakim, over intellectual property rights to the author’s work. Larsson left no will and under Swedish law, domestic partners have no automatic claim on an inheritance.

As Gabrielsson recounts in her book, she and Larsson met in 1972 when they were both 18, at a gathering of anti-Vietnam War activists in Umeå, a city in northern Sweden where they lived.

"It’s difficult to explain now how strongly Stieg and I felt, from the first moment we met, that we were made for each other," Gabrielsson writes in "There Are Things." "For thirty-two years we always had something to say, to tell each other, to explore, to share, to read, to seek, to fight for, and to build ... together."

Love and politics, domesticity and social activism remained intertwined in the couple’s love story.

Young Larsson was a committed Maoist, while Gabrielsson was drawn to the Trotskyites, she writes.

"I think we were very radical when we were young," Gabrielsson said on the phone from Stockholm. "But as we had new experiences and met new people, some of whom were very conservative, we ended up not actually feeling at home in any political party. But what mattered to us was political action, not just words."

The couple helped found Expo, a journal of investigative journalism very much like the Millennium magazine in Larsson’s books.

Larsson wrote extensively on the neo-Nazi movement in Scandinavia and exposed prominent members of Swedish society as closet neo-Nazis. It earned him a place on a hit list, Gabrielsson recalls in her book.

Gabrielsson said "There Are Things" was a long time coming.

"I found myself being asked a lot of the same questions" about Larsson and his work, Gabrielsson said. "So I decided to put them all down for fans."

A typical question: Is Millennium protagonist Mikael Blomkvist based on Larsson?

Not really, said Gabrielsson, suggesting that Blomkvist’s partner and sometime lover Lisbeth Salander is a closer match. (Both have a near photographic memory.)

Fans often ask about rumors there is a fourth Millennium novel. Yes and no. Gabrielsson said Larsson, who wrote only in his spare time, after work, finished the 2,000-page trilogy in less than two years.

He also wrote 200 pages of a fourth book. Its fate is totally up in the air, said Gabrielsson. She has previously indicated she’s prepared to finish the novel, since she played an integral role in writing the entire trilogy.

Another popular question, Gabrielsson said, is whether Lisbeth is a real person.

"No, of course she isn’t walking around the streets of Stockholm," the memoirist said.

Gabrielsson said she was pleasantly surprised by readers’ overwhelmingly positive response to Lisbeth, a heavily inked and pierced bisexual outsider who sports death-rock black outfits and the occasional mohawk.

"The world has taken this rather strange woman to their heart," she marveled. "It says something about how people are able to identify with and really love people who are not really mainstream."

Lisbeth may not be a real person, but for Larsson, her name was steeped in meaning: The character, who is sexually victimized throughout her childhood, is named after a teenage girl Larsson watched being gang-raped by a number of his classmates. Larsson didn’t participate — he did nothing. "From that moment on, he blamed himself for not having intervened," Gabrielsson writes in her memoir.

The Millennium trilogy, Gabrielsson said on the phone, "is about men who hate women." (The Swedish title of the first book, known in English as The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, is Men Who Hate Women.)

"The trilogy is different from most crime novels because its theme is to depict injustice and to show how justice is created," Gabrielsson said.

She bemoaned the tendency of many critics and readers to lose sight of the novels’ political dimension — something she hopes her book will correct.

"I want [readers] to feel that the inspiration and the hope and joy they got out of the Millennium books are about justice," Gabrielsson said, "the right to exercise civil resistance and be active to change things you do not like."

Gabrielsson said there is a continuum between Larsson’s political writings and his novels, which she said are allegories about justice, stories about men and women who join together to fight corruption and social inequality.

She said that Swedes tend to get hung up on creating new laws to further their concept of justice, while Americans are more pragmatic: Americans "think laws aren’t enough and place more importance on real-life situations."

Gabrielsson is excited about her visit. "I will do one thing when I am in Philadelphia," she said. "I’ll go to the Museum of Art to see a Winslow Homer there. He really, really is marvelous."

Contact Tirdad Derakhshani at 215-854-2736 or tirdad@phillynews.com


Author Appearance   Eva Gabrielsson: "There Are Things I Want You to Know" about Stieg Larsson and Me  7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Free Library of Philadelphia, 1901 Vine St. Admission: Free, no ticket required. Information: www.freelibrary.org/authorevents or 215-567-4341.

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