Stieg Larsson never lived to see the skyrocketing success of his Millennium detective novels, and his companion Eva Gabrielsson has not profited from the more than 40 million-plus books that have been sold.
During an interview in New York last week, Gabrielsson, who lived with “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” author for 30 years, discussed her life with Larsson, the ongoing battle with his family over copyrights, the likelihood of a fourth book, her calling as an architect and why she will never forgive and forget.
In the U.S. for the paperback release of her diaries, “There Are Things I Want You to Know About Stieg Larsson and Me,” the 58-year-old Swede talked about how she is still trying to honor Larsson’s legacy nearly eight years after his unexpected death.
WWD: Did you think people would not understand your diaries or question them?
Eva Gabrielsson: I didn’t think at all, because this was a project I wrote for me. Joyce Carol Oates wrote in “A Widow’s Story,” “This memoir is a pilgrimage. This is exactly what it is. You do it for yourself to come to grips with what was, what happened and what’s to come.” She wrote that on the first anniversary of her husband’s death, the widow should think, “I kept myself alive.” That was exactly my motto — staying alive for the first year.
WWD: Did you struggle with depression?
E.G.: Of course I did. That was a new thing as well. It was, as Joyce Carol Oates writes, “not so much a depression but not being real anymore.” You don’t know what is what. You don’t know what has happened. You don’t know what to expect. At least if you are depressed, you probably know why. The world is either black or gray, and then you slowly come to grips with it. This is a state of not being able to understand. It’s different.
WWD: Has it eased or is it something you still have to deal with?
E.G.: It comes up now and again but not as frequently. I’m feeling as though I’m not having a normal life anymore. When you are going to vacation, for instance, there’s no point in planning things to do because your man isn’t there anymore to do all these things. Also, I am constantly reminded that he is gone because this Millennium business isn’t over yet. You would think there would be an end to it but things seem to keep going on.
WWD: Where do things stand regarding Stieg’s estate?
E.G.: Being only a cohabitant, there is no provision in the law for me to go to court and protest so that means we could only have some voluntary agreement with the family. Things stand nowhere. It’s just strange to see that you don’t know people after money comes into the picture, because that’s what it’s about for them. Maybe it’s just a way to get prestige, status or an identity in the world that they didn’t have before with their own accomplishments. They’re borrowing Stieg’s feathers to become something they never were. It’s a bit phony, I think.
WWD: Many readers know Stieg only through “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” and the rest of the trilogy. What was he like?
E.G.: Stieg was sociable and outgoing. He liked to travel the world and get to know people of different cultures. That was something his family was afraid to do. Stieg liked to take political action. They liked to sit still. I can’t think of anything that connected them really except the family name.
WWD: What would Stieg have made of all that has happened?
E.G.: I am sure he would be happy about the success of the books. It’s the readers who made it a success not the publishers or the smart p.r. consultants. Regardless of the country, they seem to recognize the problems in society, injustice and corruption, which they really dislike, if not to say hate. It says something about the world today. Problems seem to be global. People are also living in multicultural societies to a much larger extent today and they identify with the indignations taking place. We are not effortlessly one any more.
WWD: Have you seen the films based on the trilogy?
E.G.: Not the American ones. I saw the other ones. Noomi Rapace was marvelous, really marvelous. This made her career really take off. With Stieg being dead and his family selling off things, the actual management and securing of the intention of the work was just left to nobody really. It was just sell, sell, sell. Noomi Rapace actually managed the literary estate on her own. She really defended her character and what her character was to say and not say. I read later that she went on strike because she refused to do things that were not in accordance with the book. So she took her part very seriously.
WWD: The American version launched Rooney Mara’s career. Do you think you’ll see it?
E.G.: I probably will, if I can without paying for it like I did with the Swedish ones. At some point in time, I would have to see it. I know the reviews in the Swedish newspapers were, “Why did they do this? It’s kind of pointless.” The whole theme of the trilogy is men who hate women and doing that with violence. The critics in Sweden thought it was rather useless rape and violence was objectifying it or exploiting it, as opposed to the Swedish version, where you saw it as the awful thing it could be. You saw the violence for what it could be and you could react to it.
WWD: I read that Stieg saw a woman gang raped when he was a young man. Did he speak with you about that?
E.G.: It must have been 10 years after we became a couple that he talked to me about it. He didn’t know the young girl at all, but he did know the guys who raped her. The year it happened, he bumped into her in the city center and tried to talk to her. She didn’t want anything to do with him. She knew he was friends with the guys and said, “You’re one of them.” Stieg was definitely troubled by that. It’s horrible to see people you knew or you thought you knew act like that. He couldn’t do anything. I think the guys were older than him as well. He was 14. After that happened, he broke off with them completely.
WWD: Will a fourth book be published?
E.G.: No, there is no fourth book. Everyone says there is a completed fourth book. I only know of a fragment of a book that I saw a few months before [Stieg died]. I estimated it to be 200 pages and probably not written in a sequence either, but scenes or a dialogue. Maybe there were places that he wanted to describe. I am not even sure it hung together.
WWD: Is that how he constructed the other books as well?
E.G.: It was one of his techniques. Other times it could flow quite easily. The Millennium started as a short text about this old man who receives pressed flowers each year and he doesn’t know who is sending them and why. Stieg didn’t know at the time that he wrote this in 1977 about any of this. It was his way of writing that you could have a scene that you yourself don’t even know what it’s about. It’s not the only way of course but it is an interesting way to open up your imagination. Answering some questions in his mind. Who is sending these flowers and why?
WWD: Is it true he first started the book on vacation?
E.G.: Yes, I was working on a book of my own and he was bored.
WWD: What was your book about?
E.G.: It is about a city planner, Per Hallman, who planned all the areas that are worth looking at in Stockholm. I use him as the guide to show us modern people that we can do this today. There are true human habitats and real sustainable structures that actually create environments where people feel at ease and positive. We have lost the humanistic approach to building. We need to take that back. This involves greenery, landscaping, city planning. We have seen it before. That’s my point. I still have to finish it.
WWD: What will your next project be?
E.G.: I am working on educational material for the Planning & Building Act for all of Sweden. I work for the government. There are some adjustments and introductions to be made for climate change and sustainability. That is my normal world. This Millennial world is not very normal. In a way, I think Stieg is better off not having to experience this mess. It would have bothered him to be in such high demand and to be the focus in that way. He was an active person. He wanted to get things done. He wanted to write and to accomplish things in life. I’m not sure that he would have done a book tour actually. As you know, there’s been no touring at all since there was nobody to do it. They couldn’t put the family on a stage, because they wouldn’t know what to say. I, of course, don’t exist. Maybe that’s why all the speculation has come from the readers. Who is what and why is this here?
WWD: How can individuals contribute to sustainability?
E.G.: One way to keep yourself in good health and to reduce transportation is to grow your own food. There is a shortage of agricultural land in the world. We will have to use parks, backyards, rooftops and window boxes. If you can, walk [for transportation]. Get a bicycle. Do something to escape having a car. In areas where there is no public transportation, demand it. You have to focus on people’s health as well. You can have a sustainable transport system and poison the people with industrial food. We have to factor in the human being first. That’s why natural food and just the possibility of riding your bike safely without being jumbled up with the ordinary traffic is so important. If you can’t keep people sustainable, there’s really no society left. All of this, of course, is in conflict with big industry.
WWD: Do you know what your next course of action will be?
E.G.: I’m doing this book tour, I have my everyday work and I need to finish my other book. Meanwhile, I get ideas about how to go about this other business as well. But I prefer to speak with my lawyer about those.
WWD: Will you ever come to peace with all that has happened?
E.G.: Not peace in the sense that I will forgive and forget — that will never happen. Peace in that I might have done what is humanly possible to correct things — I’m not there yet. I don’t believe in forgive and forget, especially not the forget part. And I don’t see any point in forgiving people who don’t ask for forgiveness and realize their own wrongs. I think Christianity and maybe the Muslims say you have to forgive people. Yes, if they realize their wrongs. It’s not a one-sided affair. It’s a two-way street.
WWD: Is there anything you would like to emphasize?
E.G.: It’s a bit scary to think we are all in problematic times at once. Anything can happen. I just hope I demystified the Millennium success by telling it like it was. The books started out of boredom and were filled with knowledge and impressions from a life lived. I hope they make some readers realize that they can do this, too.