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From the Biggest Book Release of 2015: “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” – Ahrvid Engholm (Sweden)

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There were big news and no news at the Stockholm press conference (August 26th) for the fourth Millennium novel, “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” by David Lagercrantz. Big news because of all the speculations and hysteria around this book, in the international bestseller (80+ million copies world-wide) series created and written by Stieg Larsson.

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There were some seven TV cameras present at the offices of the Swedish publishing house Norstedts and media representatives from around a dozen countries. The book was released simultaneously in 26 countries and is sold to around 50 this far.

But the whole thing was also no news because very little was said not know from the hundreds of newspaper articles and interviews published the weeks and months before. We already knew that in “The Spider’s Web” the heroine Lisbeth Salander would hack herself into the National Security Agency. At the same time hero journalist Mikael Blomkvist would be contacted by the scientist Frans Balder, who works with artificial intelligence and cryptology and is threatened by the Russian Mafia. In the Lagercrantz’s diary published in Sweden’s biggest morning paper Dagens Nyheter August 2nd we also learn that a central character is an autistic boy who draws a perfect picture of a traffic light, which is central to the plot. The stage is set for what we may call a computer science thriller, on subjects familiar in the dystopic mass survelliance world one Edward Snowden has uncovered.

Stieg Larsson was one of Sweden’s top science-fiction fans throughout the 1970’s, as fanzine publisher (titles like Fijagh, SFären, Långfredagsnatt) board member and later chairman of the Scandinavian SF Association (where Yours Truly met him every week for several years), for which he and Eva Gabrielsson also edited the memberzine. He then turned to nonfannish journalism, covering neonazi and racist movements, and became quite well-known, writing books and appearing on TV talking about that field. When he died in a heart attack 2004, the first volumne in the Millennium saga was just about to be published. He never lived to see his huge success.

The interest was probably boosted by the controversies between Stieg’s partner since more than three decades, Eva Gabrielsson, and the Larsson father Erland and Stieg’s brother Joakim. They inherited the estate and the book rights, since Eva and Stieg weren’t married. Eva (or friends of her) has access to about half a fourth novel about the super hacker Salander and the investigative journalist Blomkvist, but she refuses to let the Larsson family have it. Eva has delivered sharp criticism towards how Stieg’s legacy has been commercialised, and schooltime friends of Stieg have called it “grave robbing”. Stieg was as a left-wing activist against commercial excesses.

So the Larssons and the Swedish publisher Norstedts decided to commission an independent fourth novel. They say that “the surplus of the profit” for the fourth book will go to the magazine Expo – raw model for the Millennium magazine in the novels – which Stieg helped to found. The author choosen, David Lagercrantz, was already a huge bestseller with his book about the soccer star Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and had in earlier works dug into the lives of people like Alan Turing and the inventor Håkan Lans.

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“I feel like I thrive when I collide with other people’s universe”, Lagercrantz said during the press conference, enthusiastically waving his hands like a human windmill. “It inspires me and makes me better. I have the greatest respect for Stieg Larsson who was a master of creating memorable characters. I’m not doing this for the money, I have plenty from my earlier books. After Zlatan I had offers every week. Writing this novel was a passion for me! If I had said no, I would have regretted it all my life.”

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Lagercrantz gave the same message during both versions of the press conference, which was held first in Swedish and then in English. He had obviously rehearsed what to say. The conflict between the Larssons and Eva Gabrielsson wasn’t touched much upon. For my part I was held back a little by the fact that Erland and Joakim Larsson sat right in front of me! But I pulled myself together and instead asked how much Lagercrantz had tried to emulate the style of Stieg Larsson.

“I can write in different styles, like when I wrote about Zlatan,” he answered. “Here it is journalistic prose like Stieg’s, not a ‘literary style’ as when I wrote about Alan Turing. He had a fantastic flow in his writing, he wrote matter-of-factly, straight on, a master of creationg complex story lines. My task is to be a caretaker of Stieg’s legacy, but also to give a little bit of myself.”

The novel’s Swedish title is “Det som inte dödar oss” (What doesn’t kill us), but the English translation continues the tradition of inventing a new title, like when “Men Who Hate Women” (novel 1) became “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”. It was written under deep secrecy. Lagercrantz was smuggled into Norstedts through a cellar for their first meeting. He wrote on a computer disconnected from the Internet, in fear of a Salander-like attack. The involved people spoke in code-words about the project. Copies to foreign publishers and translators have been carried by couriers. Press who received advance information had to sign non-disclosure agreements. This caused complaints about that Norstedts tried to control the media too much. They defend it by saying that the interest has been so huge, that without all secrecy the book would be uploaded to the Net in a nanosecond, long before the release.

Lagercrantz says he tries to stay away from the Larsson Vs Gabrielsson dispute.

It hurts me deeply that they can’t come to an agreement. I think I do something good for Stieg’s legacy, though. His books will find new readers, his legacy will live on and there will be new focus on his important work against intolerance and racism.”

He says he has worked his ass off during writing, in a state of mania and sometimes falling into depression due to the immense pressure. He’ll now be occupied with interviews and appearances for at least half a year on. He has had free hands when writing, except of course having to use Stieg Larsson’s central characters and settings, most of it around the Södermalm district of Stockholm (where tourists these days can walk the very popular Stieg Larsson guided tours).

If we will see a Millennium 5 depends on the reception of the fourth book. Lagercrantz doesn’t close the door.

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I doubt few would get a heart attack if a fifth vessel was launched with David Lagercrantz at the rudder. There is an ocean of money to navigate.

Stieg Larsson trivia:

  • “Umefandom” – from the northern city of Umeå, where they lived – was a small but influential group of sf fans from the early to mid 1970’s, lead by Stieg Larsson, Eva Gabrielsson and Rune Forsgren.

  • Stieg and Eva edited nine issues of Fanac in the late 1970’s, the memberzine of the Scandinavian SF Association. They usually signed their material with a simple “Stieg & Eva”.

  • Before starting on a trip to Africa Stieg left a sealed envelope to Eva, “in case of my death”. It contained a will giving everything to the Umeå branch of the small Socialist Party. Since the paper wasn’t co-signed by witnesses it wasn’t a legal will.

  • Stieg’s first attempt at a professional sale was in 1969, around the age of 15, when he submitted the story “Jensens brott” (“Jensen’s crime”) to the small Jules Verne Magasinet. The editor Bertil Falk didn’t actually reject it, having too much on his hands he just didn’t reply. So the juvenile manuscript stayed in left-over editorial papers of JVM, which a few years ago were donated by Falk to the Royal Library in Stockholm.

  • The literary rights of Stieg Larsson are administred through the Larsson company Moggliden, which in 2014 reported assets of ca US$ 40 million (329 million Swedish crowns).

  • Though the Academy Bookstore in Stockholm may have been first in the world officially selling Millennium 4 (David Lagercrantz was there to sign 00.01 the release day, August 27th), a newsstand on the Stockholm Central Station displayed the book the day before by mistake. A journalist on her way to the Upsala Nya Tidning paper grabbed a copy and thus UNT may have been the first to review it.

    © Ahrvid Engholm

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