Stieg Larsson

Tuesday Jul 27 2010
Posted in: News-Bulletin, Staff-Picks-and-Reviews

by Jack Bumsted

By now almost everyone in the Western World has heard the story of Stieg Larsson, the Swedish journalist who published what is now called “The Millennium Trilogy”, which has sold millions of copies world-wide. The barebones of the story seem straightforward enough. Larsson began the manuscript on his laptop around 2002, and did not submit it for publication until 2004, when all three volumes were nearly finished. On the eve of publication, Larsson – who was a heavy smoker and junk-food addict – had a massive heart attack and died. He and his partner, Eva Gabrielsson, were never married, and Larsson had no proper will; the unsigned one he left from 1977 left everything he owned (which wasn’t much) to a left-wing magazine. Whether or not Larsson was actually estranged from his father and brother is unclear, although he was brought up by his grandparents. In any event, according to Swedish law the family inherited what turns out to be a fairly substantial estate of royalties and movie rights, and was slow to be generous with the partner, whose one asset may be a laptop with some part of another manuscript on it featuring the same team of detectives. The case has proved a Swedish cause célèbre which will probably lead to changes in the law for intestate cases throughout the country.

When one digs a bit deeper, there are a number of unanswered questions, all of which have been aired in the Swedish press. What exactly was Larsson’s relationship with his family – and with Eva Gabrielsson? Did Larsson, who was a professional journalist but had never seriously written any fiction, actually write the Millennium Trilogy unaided? The main candidate for some kind of collaboration is obviously Gabrielsson, who actually did write some fiction. She will publish a book about the whole affair in the autumn, which may shed some light on the murky edges, but will probably simply make matters worse.

At the same time, as material trickles out about Larsson and his life, several matters do become clearer. First, the origins of Lisbeth Salander, Larsson’s greatest creation, are at least partly autobiographical. He was himself an autistic child, and there is considerable evidence of his powers of concentration as an adult. To his own experience, Larsson modeled his female upon Pippi Longstocking, a Swedish literary heroine. Updating her, he told a British interviewer, he made her “25 years old and an outcast. She has no friends and is deficient in social skills.“ Second, Larsson had considerable experience with classic Swedish detective stories, especially Sjowall and Wahloo, and had even written an article about them. Like Sjowall and Wahloo, he initially planned a ten-volume series. One can find echoes of Sjowall and Wahloo in the novels. He also had written reviews of more recent crime fiction for his employer in the 1990s. Third, some unpublished science fiction by the adolescent Larsson has recently surfaced, evidence that he at least had tried writing fiction before starting the Millenium Trilogy. Fourth, Larsson’s concern about the abuse of women in Sweden was of long standing, as was his conviction that the Swedish secret service contained a nasty right-wing faction.

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