Sunday, September 26, 2010

What Could Have Been, Stieg?

I recently finished reading Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, consisting of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. Overall, I loved the series — enough to recommend it to my dad, who is and always has been a very serious reader.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo follows Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist convicted of libel for a scandalously true but anonymously sourced story, as he is hired to investigate a missing persons case from 40 years ago. He issues the help of misfit Lisbeth Salander, a world-class computer hacker and investigator, to uncover the truth. The Girl Who Play With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest are a more continuous story focusing on Salander, who is wrongly accused of murdering two journalists and her legal guardian.

Without giving much away about the plot for those of you who haven’t, but absolutely should, read them, I enjoyed the trilogy for several reasons. Larsson was a fantastic writer who could invent the most outrageous events, but still have his plot play out logically. I haven’t read much of crime fiction in the past, but I always had a difficult time “buying” the storyline. There’s no way this can happen, or this is too far-fetched for real life. Yes, his stories are extreme, but I did find them generally believable.

Secondly, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was originally titled Men Who Hate Women. The books all revolve around a general theme of abuse and misogyny that is rarely present in books, especially from male writers. That said, there are some extremely graphic descriptions in the novels that are bound to be disturb readers. I didn’t always like reading about these events, but I certainly have to give Larsson credit for allowing his writing to be free of censorship.

Seeing as how I enjoyed these books so much and appreciated Larsson’s writing, I took a few seconds between chapters of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo to read the short blurb about its author. I was surprised to find that he is dead.

Larsson was just 50-years-old when he had a heart attack, without any major risk factors besides being a lifelong smoker. Not only is he dead, but all three novels were delivered to the publisher shortly before his death, leaving them to be published posthumously. He would never know the massive success that his novels would have, as they have sold over 35 million copies worldwide and have been adapted into both Swedish and Hollywood films.

Of course my blessing/curse of journalism education kicked in, and I needed to research and read every single detail I could about Larsson’s death. It just struck me as so strange, especially after beginning the second novel. Blomkvist struggles with the decision to publish the works of his slain journalist friend, knowing that his writing could inflict danger to himself, his co-workers, and his friends.

Apparently, this wasn’t too far from real life for Larsson. As a journalist in Sweden, Larsson originally made a name for himself as an editor for the magazine, Expo, writing openly about neo-Nazis and right wing extremists. Larsson received multiple death threats because of his out-spoken views against these groups. The Swedish police claim there was never any foul play in Larsson’s death, but given that his own life and subsequent death could be the plot of any of his novels, the situation does raise suspicions.

I also found it fascinating that there is a massive legal battle brewing between Larsson’s girlfriend of 32 years and his family.

Larsson was raised as a child by his grandfather, who inflicted the anti-Nazi sentiment onto his grandson after he had been imprisoned for speaking out against the Nazis during World War II. His grandfather believed strongly in equal rights, clearly influencing the work of Larsson later in life. He met his girlfriend and life partner Eva Gabrielsson at age 18. Interestingly, the two never married because according to Swedish law, a couple must register their address upon entering legal matrimony. Because of the frequent threats to Larsson’s life they never officially married in order to protect their privacy, leaving his father and brother to inherit all rights to the books, the movies, and, of course, the money.

At the time of his death, Larsson has synopses for a total of 10 Millennium novels. A partially completed fourth novel was on his laptop, which is held in possession of Gabrielsson. She has no intention of publishing.

More than anything, I just find this story interesting. I don’t know the likelihood of conspiracy theories, and I’m unsure of how much life does actually imitate art. But I do know that the books were great, and that I can’t help but wish all ten could have made it to print.

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