When Stieg Larsson died in 2004 at the age of 50 in Sweden, he left behind a puzzle almost as dark and just as convoluted as those found in his novels The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest. Or, so goes the luridly thrilling story of the now famously dead and famously wronged author, who never officially married his long-time partner, which led to the profits and, more crucially, the rights of his Millennium Trilogy going to his estranged brother and father instead.
What's ostensibly missing in the still-churning legend of Larsson, and revealed in his widowed partner Eva Gabrielsson's memoir-cum-treatise of their life and her legal battle (it was first released this winter in both Swedish and French) is the fact that such real-life dramatics have always closely surrounded the trilogy. Gabrielsson writes, of a fictional crime, "Everything of this nature described in The Millennium Trilogy has happened at one time or another to a Swedish citizen, journalist, politician, public prosecutor, unionist, or policeman. Nothing was made up."
It's more of the same, really, and she knows; she was there. In the first half of "There Are Things I Want You To Know", Gabrielsson explains who Larsson was by explaining who she is - an architect, a collaborator and, apparently, an archetypical alpha-wife of a messy writer - and who they were together.
The story of their lives and relationship will be revelatory for Trilogy obsessives connecting the dots between Larsson and Gabrielsson, the dragon-tattooed Lisbeth Salander and the intrepid journo Mikael Blomkvist, but their almost-marriage contains nothing unusual for a decidedly nerdy couple occupied with projects, activism and travel. There's no sense in Gabrielsson's memoir of anything other than mundane commitment, except for the two times she moved out to make a point about Larsson's long hours.
There is a bittersweet sting in the memoir of the times when they were about to get married, and didn't, always thwarted by the responsibilities that attend a life like theirs: committed, exhausting, fervent. Before his very sudden death, Larsson was about to form a company in both of their names for the book's profits: He died without doing it. Until he gained weight in middle age, he wore a ring.
If the book tends toward hero worship - surely Larsson was a good man, but caffeine and pizza couldn't have been his only failings - it was savvy of Gabrielsson and her co-writer, French Elle columnist Marie-Françoise Colombani, to devote so much space to biography. Larsson's life story confirms, unequivocally, that the ever-politicized writer would have wanted the proceeds of the Trilogy to benefit his partner and his activist legacy as he'd planned.
It also provides stunning, strong explications of Larsson's ideologies, most notably his feminism. Gabrielsson writes: "What more beautiful homage could Stieg pay to women than to make them heroines in a feminist crime novel? And to show them as he saw them: brave, free, strong enough to change their world and refuse to be victims." And, in the same passage, his taste for revenge: "As for the murderers, Stieg's indictment of them in the trilogy is encoded in verses from the Bible."
All of this so ably justifies dedicating the second part of the book to a detailed chronology of the legal machinations that followed Larsson's death. Of the law that has left her with almost nothing, Gabrielsson writes, "When one unmarried partner dies, the other is abruptly stripped of all the couple has built up together, and is thereby prevented from developing their joint creation. And when this legacy is handed over to people who have had nothing to do with it, this is not only immoral but also detrimental to the creative elements in society, since it's the passive who win and the active who lose."
In this book, and in the case, Gabrielsson is far more concerned about the fate of the unpublished fourth novel, changes to the first three and the commercialization of the books that Larsson's (enterprising; opportunistic) father and brother have authorized.
As a legal drama, it's compelling. As a story of two lives entwined, for three decades of working toward something that was never shared, it's even more.
Kate Carraway writes the "Thirtyish" column for The Grid in Toronto.