Monday 20 November 2017

Review: Memoir: Stieg And Me by Eva Gabrielsson

Orion, £12.99

When Stieg Larsson died suddenly in 2004, he was known as a radical journalist with the anti-fascist magazine, Expo. To 40 million readers today, he is the Swedish author of the Millennium Trilogy, which includes the best-selling The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

When Larsson dropped dead of a heart attack, he had been living with Eva Gabrielsson for 30 years. However, with his unexpected death came unexpected problems.

In her memoir Stieg And Me, Gabrielsson recounts her life with Larsson, their mutual support of each other as writers, and the acrimonious battle that followed his death intestate.

Gabrielsson discovered she had no right to her partner's estate, including his half of the apartment they lived in and had a joint mortgage on.

She lived with her boxes packed for three years after Larsson's death until his father and brother (now in control of his estate and increasing fortune) finally signed over Larsson's half of the flat to her. This book attempts to give validity to the three decades Gabrielsson shared with Larsson and her status as his rightful widow, a status denied her by Swedish law (common-law unions are only acknowledged if there are children) and Larsson's family.

It is a raw study of grief. She uses diary extracts from the year following Larsson's death to portray the visceral emotional strain she was under. She is clearly a woman tormented by a grief, compounded by the legal battle with Larsson's family and his publisher.

There are elements of the 'behind every great man is a great woman' syndrome and Gabrielsson's belief that the Millennium Trilogy is as much a part of her as Larsson struck this reader as a little self-regarding.

But it's hard not to empathise with her.

This is a one-sided tale but if everything related here is true, including the fact that Larsson's brother visited them only twice in 30 years (once after Larsson had died), it is a shocking account.

The book gives an interesting insight into Larsson himself and he emerges as an obsessive, working all the time, living on junk food, cigarettes and coffee and perhaps a little paranoid, too (he and Gabrielsson never went out together because they felt it was not safe because of their anti-fascist work).

These factors, matched with his thwarted journalistic ambition, make it easy to see how his fiction provided a refuge for him.

Interesting facts are revealed about Larsson's childhood, too, (he spent the first nine years of his life with his grandparents; he witnessed the gang rape of a girl when he was still a boy) that offer extra understanding of the stories that eventually made him famous.

This book is a fascinating insight into the mysterious Larsson and the way money has corrupted his family. Despite Gabrielsson's distaste for what she calls the 'Stieg industry', this book is only likely to fuel it further.

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