Monday, October 11, 2010

Unbridled Success and Legal Woes

My sister is in town for Thanksgiving and she brought with her a copy of Stieg Larsson's The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.  I have not personally read any of the books in his Millennium series, but I appear to be in the minority.  These books are all at the top of the current bestsellers list and have grossed approximately $40 million dollars in sales to date.  There are also movies based upon the books, which have only served to heighten their popularity.  In Larsson's native Sweden, people are paying to go on tours of places featured in the novels, much like the homes of the stars.

There is one stop which will not make it on the tour, and that is Larsson's apartment which he shared with his common-law partner, Eva Gabrielsson.  Yesterday, I read an interview with Gabrielsson written by The Globe and Mail's Anna Porter, and it was quite the eye-opener.  What makes Larsson's success story so intriguing is that his international fame only came after his sudden death in 2004.  He died of a heart attack while in the midst of writing a book, and sadly left no will.  This point is key to the events that would follow.  At the time of his death, he had already brokered a publishing deal for the three books in the Millennium trilogy, and they were completed.  According to his partner, Gabrielsson, he was approximately two hundred pages into his fourth book when he passed away.  All of these factors add up to an intense legal drama which has been brewing for years.  

Sweden is known for being a progressive country, so I would never have suspected that Swedish law would not support the concept of a common-law union.  Gabrielsson and Larsson were together as a couple for over thirty-two years when he passed away, but she has received none of the money generated by his work. Due to the fact that Larsson never created a will, all of his earnings have gone to his father and brother. What is even more extreme is that Larsson's half of their shared apartment was inherited by them as well, and it was only after a large legal fight that she managed to own her own home. As Gabrielsson explains, Swedish law strives to protect the familial bloodlines, and so the male relatives of a deceased person would automatically inherit his/her assets in the event that there is no will.  

Upon reading Gabrielsson's story of grief and legal woe, I grew very sympathetic to her plight.  I am in a common-law relationship and many of my friends and relatives have been in the same situation.  If a person does not have a positive relationship with their partner's relatives, or if there is a lot of money involved, I can see how the legal wrangling might transpire.  Luckily in Canada common-law relationships are recognized, but a will is always a good idea no matter what the status of your love life is.  Needless to say, I feel for Gabrielsson who doesn't strike me as a gold-digger or a fame seeker.  She has her own career as an architect, and only seems to be speaking out because of the misconceptions about her partner's work and her legal battles.  The father and brother are combating her claims by questioning her influence upon the work itself, which seems to be really subjective grounds for not allowing her a percentage of the royalties.  As his companion for over thirty years, she undoubtedly had some impact on his life and work.  Some writers' significant others play key roles in the development of their work, but if that wasn't the case with Gabrielsson, I don't think that she should be disinherited.  

For what it is worth, I hope that she succeeds in shedding more light on this legal issue and ultimately gets what she deserves.  Whether she helped in the creative process or not, she supported his career in her own way and should be compensated.  Though I clearly have no clout with the Swedish legal system, that's just how I see it.            

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