For someone who proclaims that "There Are Things I Want You to Know" about Stieg Larsson and Me, as the title of her new memoir reads, Eva Gabrielsson doesn't seem to want to say very much.
The 57-year-old writer, architect and government bureaucrat was the romantic and writing partner of Mr. Larsson, the late author of the Millennium Trilogy, a global publishing phenomenon that started with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Dressed in casual, draped clothing, she is reticent and seems defensive as she settles herself at a table in downtown Toronto during her wide-reaching North American book tour. For most of the interview, she looks down at a sheet of paper, doodling little designs, circles and arrows, with a pen.
When she does glance up through her small, rectangular glasses it's with a wariness, a skepticism, as though she's trying to figure out what her interlocutor wants from her.
Maybe that's because her life, since Mr. Larsson died from a heart attack in 2004 at the age of 50, has become as dramatic as that of the crime-fiction trilogy's famous protagonist, Lisbeth Salander.
Mr. Larsson, who worked as a crusading journalist for an investigative magazine, had signed the publishing contract for two of his books, but died a few months before the publication of the first met with immediate success. Sales of the books have topped 27 million copies, and they have been turned into movies in Sweden. The Hollywood version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara, comes out this December.
Since Mr. Larsson's death, Ms. Gabrielsson, who was his partner for over 30 years, has been in a fight with his family over his literary legacy and estate worth an estimated $22-million.
"This whole thing would be a great crime novel, " she says with a sharp-edged Swedish accent, when the irony is pointed out that she is fighting for justice and truth - a theme from the life she and Mr. Larsson led as political activists, which is reflected in the trilogy.
The couple decided not to marry, even though they'd planned to as early as 1983. "It would have put our life in danger," she says, explaining that he was often a target of the right-wing extremists he reported on. If they had married, their names and addresses would have been in the public register, she points out. As it was, they rarely went out together in public. Even some of her co-workers never knew she was his partner.
On her wedding finger, she wears two simple gold rings. "These are the rings from 1983," she says matter-of-factly. "They say Steig and Eva. It just lacks the date."
Ms. Gabrielsson's curt manner is reflected in her memoir, which she wrote as snapshots of their life together. "I'm trying to get away from this picture of Steig as a lone hero or lone thinker, someone separate from the life he really had, a life we had together," she says. Several reviewers have noted that her memoir is not a fluid read, which has led to Internet gossip about the truth of her claim that she was heavily involved in the writing of the un-putdownable trilogy.
"I'm not trying to steal his spotlight," she replies tartly when asked how she feels about this. "I'm trying to establish what was." Silence falls between us, which I leave on the table as she returns to her doodling. "I'm not interested in having his spotlight at all," she says a moment later. "I'm the most reluctant public figure that you ever encountered," she says, looking up without a hint of humour.
Mostly, she's seems more beleaguered than angry; weary over the fight she knows she must fight "because Stieg would want me to." In the last year of their life together, they enjoyed a new happiness. His drafts for the first two books were getting positive feedback from family. Norstedts, the publisher that ended up signing the books after another one passed on them - was very encouraging. "We started to dream and plan," she tells me, her voice softening. They designed a writing cottage by the sea. "We knew we would get some money for the books. We really lived that new life in our imagination."
But stunning disappointments followed. Mr. Larsson had said he planned with Norstedts to set up a new company to give him and Ms. Gabrielsson control of rights and royalties for the books. But it wasn't finalized, and Norstedts wouldn't honour it. Then Mr. Larsson's brother Joakim, who wasn't close to him, and father Erland took control of the estate. (Swedish law does not recognize common-law partners for inheritance.) All negotiations with the family have broken off.
One tantalizing secret of her book is the whereabouts of Mr. Larsson's laptop, said to contain drafts of the fourth book, which she was thinking of completing.
"I can't say anything because I get into trouble," she explains when asked if she can clarify the mystery. "The proposal of me trying to finish the fourth book was made a long time ago, less than a year after Stieg died, and it was done in good faith. ... But I have stopped thinking about it. I think the readers of Millennium have to accept that Stieg is dead. And therefore also the characters are dead as he would have done them."
One thing she is forthcoming about is a Viking curse she directed at those she thought contributed to Mr. Larsson's untimely death. In a chapter called The Vengeance of the Gods, she describes how she organized "a magic ceremony" with friends on the last day of the year, several weeks after Mr. Larsson's death.
In ancient times, the curse was cast with the beheading of a horse as sacrifice. Instead, standing on the edge of a cliff, she broke a ceramic sculpture of two horses in half and, surrounded by large candles and a torch held aloft, she recited her curse and threw one horse into the water below.
"I think there's something larger than ourselves," she says gently. "I was bursting with sadness and the weight of confusion. The curse was a spiritual thing. Hear my despair. Give me some confidence that things will work out all right in the end."
And did it work?
She looks up again from her page. The eyes have grown sharp again.
"Do you dare to ask?"