Stieg and Me by Eva Gabrielsson

Eva Gabrielsson, partner of Stieg Larsson for more than three decades, is still angry about being cut out of the late author’s legacy

Sunday Times, 10 July 2011

It is hard not to feel sorry for Eva Gabrielsson. For more than three decades she lived with Stieg Larsson, a little-known radical journalist, sharing ideas, politics and death threats. They lived modestly and were constantly aware they were at risk from the Swedish far right; in 1999, when several suspects were arrested for the murder of a trade unionist, the police found Larsson’s and Gabrielsson’s passport photos among the evidence they confiscated.

Larsson had begun a series of crime novels that he hoped would earn enough for them to build a house in the country. He was working on the fourth when he collapsed at his office in 2004, aged 50, dying before Gabrielsson could say goodbye. Effectively his widow, although they weren’t married, she could never have anticipated what happened next: her lover’s first three novels were published posthumously and the man she had lost became a global sensation.

It soon became clear that Larsson’s legal heirs were his widowed father, Erland, and younger brother Joakim, who even inherited half of the apartment Gabrielsson had shared with Larsson. Because the couple had been so close, she asked to be put in control of Larsson’s literary estate, but the family refused and she found herself cut out of discussions about editing and film rights. A dispute about the flat was finally resolved in Gabrielsson’s favour, but she has received little financial benefit from the Millennium trilogy, while her battle for control of his literary legacy continues to this day.

It is apparent from this strange and disturbing book, which tells Gabrielsson’s story in a series of disjointed chapters, that exclusion from Larsson’s literary afterlife matters a great deal more to her than money. She regards the Millennium trilogy as a reflection of their shared lives, recalling trips around Stockholm as they debated where different characters should live.

It seems equally clear that Erland and Joakim have never understood Gabrielsson’s feelings in this matter. According to her account, she knew Larsson much better than his immediate family; Larsson was raised by his grandparents until just before his ninth birthday, when his parents finally sent for him. Rage and a sense of loss infuse her book. It is a translation of a French text, but the girlish quality of the prose sits oddly with her claim to something approaching co-authorship of the Millennium trilogy: “I can only say that just as Stieg and I shared a common language, we often wrote together.” She reveals that she would like to finish the fourth novel, which exists as 200 pages on the laptop Larsson used at work. For the moment, though, the text is in limbo, in Gabrielsson’s possession but another victim of the ferocious dispute with his family.

Gabrielsson explains her bitterness by saying she was tormented by thoughts of “all those years of frustration that had wounded the man of my life, years during which some people had refused to ­recognise his abilities”. But while another woman might have found consolation in the knowledge that her lover’s books have sold more than 40m copies, her anger seems to burn as brightly as ever.

Gabrielsson discovered only after Larsson’s death that he had not, as he promised, set up a company to manage their joint assets. In recent years, she has thrown herself into a campaign for a change in Swedish law so that other unmarried cohabitees don’t find themselves excluded from inheritance. But it seems odd that this intelligent woman, who describes herself as a feminist, left such matters entirely to her lover. It is one of the questions left open by her book, which leaves the anguished saga as unfinished as Larsson’s literary legacy.

(translated by Linda Coverdale)

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