Stieg Larsson was a Swedish journalist, little known outside his homeland and even then only familiar to those who read his financial and political articles. Nothing prepared the world, and I use "world" advisedly, for the trilogy of novels he was to produce. The three manuscripts were delivered shortly before his death in 2004 and have since, as happens far too rarely, justified the rapturous clichés from all sides. They truly are amazing works, in concept, scope and execution.
Scandinavian authors (and poets and musicians) bring a certain bleakness to their work. The good ones use it as their canvas, the great writers weave it in to the lyricism of the words they produce. Larsson combines that lyricism with a style based on his journalistic expertise and an expert sense of timing to produce great sweeping novels that never let up.
I've just deleted the words "he throws in" as they would be a mis-description. Along the way he gently injects moments of pain and horror, tempering the novelist's craft with the journalist's avoidance of editorialising. Where a lesser writer might lapse into buckets-of-blood excess, he guides readers to form their own opinions and emotions. He doesn't need to state that something is wrong or a huge injustice, his readers do it for him.
After reading the trilogy I was left almost angry that his early death has robbed us of more. If this is the quality of his first works, his later ones would have been magnificent.
There are a couple of sad footnotes to his demise. An unfinished fourth manuscript is reliably said to exist. More importantly for those close to him, he died intestate and his partner, Eva Gabrielsson, did not therefore inherit what is now estimated at a £30 million fortune from the three novels. An unseemly feud between her and his father/brother have seen her cut out of the picture. Said Stieg's father, Joakim, "We found out in January 2005 that we would automatically inherit everything. I wrote to Eva and explained that under Swedish law we had to accept the will, but we could choose to give everything - his half of the apartment, and his savings - to her. It came to around £150,000." Good of him. The only thing that all apparently agree on is that the unfinished manuscript will stay unfinished and unpublished.
"Eating in Sweden is really just a series of heartbreaks." Bill Bryson
|Original cover: see Peter Mendelsund's blog|
See The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo -- The Book and The Movies for a discussion of books and both Swedish and US movies.