Eva: The Woman Who Served as Author Stieg Larrson’s Muse

Ah, busy days recently – not much time to read or write. But busy for good reasons, I suppose. I ended up taking an impomptu break from Connie Willis’ duology about time travel and World War II as well, as I went to look up a quote from William Gibson’s Neuromancer the other day, and ended up rereading it – not for the first or surely not the last time.

Gibson has become like Tolkien or Maugham for me: the literary equivalent of comfort food. I’ve read his two cyberpunk trilogies three times now.

Swedish investigative journalist and author Stieg Larrson. I'm presuming this is a standard PR shot, but if anyone knows the photographer, please let me know so I can add credit. Anyway, I couldn’t help but notice – and comment on the fact – that Swedish journalist and author Stieg Larrson’s long-time significant other has published her memoir about him. Of course Larrson is the posthumous author of the enormously popular crime trilogy – The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest, as the three novels are titled in English.

If you’re familiar with his work, then you are likely at least somewhat familiar with the controversy surrounding his authorship of these works. I confess that I’ve only come to the story lately; I’ve only just read the novels last winter. But apparently some believe, for whatever reasons (and I’m not trying to make any claims as to their veracity either way), that Larrson wasn’t talented enough to have written the novels on his own. Consequently there is belief that his long-time companion, Eva Gabrielsson, ghost wrote them. Again, while I make no claims, it does sound a bit unlikely.

Gabrielsson has just published her memoir about Larrson with the rather unwieldy title “‘There Are Things I Want You to Know’ About Stieg Larsson and Me” (the quotes are part of the title itself). It would seem she was more of a muse and sounding board for Larrson, as opposed to a ghost writer. Furthermore, as the New York Times’ Books section says about it:

The memoir’s straightforward tone and terse, unadorned style are unlikely to provide much support for the conspiracy theorists who are convinced that Larsson was not talented enough to come up with the Millennium books on his own and that Ms. Gabrielsson must have written them for him.

Cover of Stieg Larrson's The Girl With the Draggon TattooThe article goes on to discuss Viking curses and Gabrielsson’s fight with Larrson’s father and brother over his estate – two topics apparently discussed at length in her memoir. It also apparently addresses Larrson’s epic coffee consumption; reportedly it surpassed even the typical Scandinavian coffee consumption. One wonders — like the New York Times writer — if this manic caffeine addiction contributed in anyway to his death of a heart attack at age 50.

The so-called Millennium trilogy, named after a magazine that employs one of the books’ two main characters, were rather interesting reads, but not for the usual reasons (at least in my not-so-humble opinion, heh). First of all, as recovering journalist, I was curious to read these books by a notable Swedish investigative journalist, ones that had become so overwhelmingly popular.

Unfortunately, as popular fiction and crime novels go, I found them pretty standard stuff (but having said that, if crime fiction is your bag, by all means, you’ll probably find them worth reading — certainly the first one, at least).

In the first one there are are some interesting elements to the crimes, but still nothing extraordinary in terms of crime fiction. What was more interesting to me were the political themes intertwined with all three novels, as well as those of sexuality and violence. In this sense, the trilogy reaches for something beyond the standard pop fiction templates, even if it does fall somewhat flat when it comes to its portrayal of women, not to mention men. The characters tend to be stock, cookie cutter characters that one finds in the more hackneyed crime, horror and popular fiction – there’s even an old Nazi who is of course Evil with a capital E.

But the most interesting thing to me about the three novels is that the second one is so problematic that it doesn’t even read like it was written by the same author as that of the first one; the third novel further illustrates this as it more or less reads like a return to authorial form established by the first book. I have no idea why this is; I suppose it may have been a matter of editing or translation. Perhaps this is what gave rise to the rumors that he didn’t actually write them?

Cover of Stieg Larrson's The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest On second thought it would perhaps be more accurate to say that rather than reading as if it were a different author, the second book reads as if were an unedited first draft. I’ve thought about doing a literary critique of the Millennium trilogy that looks at the problems with the second book in comparison to the other two – I found the difference to be that stark, and the problems that glaring.

Of course not everyone agrees with my estimate of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest; the books remain immensely popular, having won Swedish book awards and serving as the basis for a Swedish film trilogy and forthcoming American film trilogy. And I am nothing if not more than a bit fussy about literature.

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