Conversation: ‘The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest’ Arrives in U.S. Bookstores
“The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” the third novel in Stieg Larsson’s bestselling “Millennium” trilogy, hit U.S. bookstores Tuesday. The crime novels, published originally in Sweden, center around investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander, a tattooed and pierced computer hacker with a photographic memory.
All three of Larsson’s books, including “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and “The Girl Who Played with Fire,” have become international bestsellers. In just over four years, 40 million copies of Larsson’s books have been sold worldwide — a surprisingly high number. In the United States, Larsson’s books currently rank #1 and #2, and the concluding volume of his trilogy is currently ranked #1 on Amazon.com.
Earlier this year, a Swedish film of Larsson’s first book, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” was released in America, and Sony Pictures has purchased U.S. rights to the three novels.
Larsson, a journalist himself, died in 2004 shortly after delivering his manuscripts to his Swedish publisher.
Earlier today, I spoke to Eva Gedin, who was Larsson’s editor at Norstedts, about his life and work, and about the possibility of a fourth Larsson novel:
(A transcript is after the jump.)
JEFFREY BROWN: Joining me now is Eva Gedin. She’s the editor in Sweden who first published Stieg Larsson’s books. Welcome to you.
EVA GEDIN: Thank you.
JEFFREY BROWN: Could we start with the real obvious question? Do you have a theory as to why these books have become such a phenomenon?
EVA GEDIN: The very short answer is Lisbeth Salander.
JEFFREY BROWN: The character.
EVA GEDIN: The character. He created a character which is a sort of female superhero that’s beyond everything and that people love, love to get to know.
JEFFREY BROWN: A superhero, but a sort of anti-hero.
EVA GEDIN: Yeah, but she has sort of super skills. She’s a hacker, she has a photographic memory and since she’s been so abused and she’s sort of a person society has not treated very well, she makes up her own rules and she takes her revenge.
JEFFREY BROWN: I read that Stieg Larsson once in an interview, he was asked about this and he said he was thinking in creating her, what would Pippi Longstocking be when she grew up.
EVA GEDIN: Exactly.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now a lot of readers know Pippi Longstocking.
EVA GEDIN: Yeah.
JEFFREY BROWN: Explain that.
EVA GEDIN: Yeah, it’s true. He had an original plan. It was both Pippi Longstocking, but even Mikael Blomkvist is actually Kalle Blomqvist is a child detective in one of Astrid Lindgren’s books. So he was thinking about using the characters like that. And he had this specific idea about Pippi Longstocking — what would she be when she grew up, and there are a lot of likeliness between Lisbeth Salander and Pippi Longstocking, although Pippi sort of seems to be quite happy without parents, but she has also, you know, her special super skills — she’s very strong, but she has to be nice as well as if she’s both rich and strong and can do anything that she does, but she knows what’s right and wrong. And I think Lisbeth Salander also fights not only for her own life and for her own revenge, but she wants to make things right. She hates violence against women, for example, and she sees that the bad guys get if not caught, she can damage them.
JEFFREY BROWN: Some of this comes, I guess, from Larsson himself in his work as a journalist?
EVA GEDIN: Yes, exactly. He started this magazine in the ’90s, which was researching and writing about the extreme right wing and educated people about how they worked on the internet and how their propaganda worked. When I met him the first time I was really impressed by the work he did. He was lecturing, he was out in schools in Sweden; he went to Brussels to lecture about these matters. He was an expert in his area. He even went to Scotland Yard to educate them in these matters.
JEFFREY BROWN: So all of that was by way, of course, it was the work he was doing as a journalist, but it became, I guess, the research for these books. Is it true that he conceived of all of this as a trilogy from the outset? Did he finally just sit down one day and say I’m going to, now I’m going to turn to novels and put all that research to that work?
EVA GEDIN: His knowledge about these matters were important went he wrote the novels, but he had read crime fiction since he was a teenager and I think he had this dream about writing those books himself. And he knew the genre very well, which is clear when you read the books because he uses the genre. The first book is the typical closed mystery; the next book is about how the police and so on; and then you have the political thriller, the third one. And you can also see references to his favorite crime writers like Val McDermid and Dorothy Sayers, Elizabeth George — a lot of female crime writers that he liked a lot.
JEFFREY BROWN: And he also used a lot of real people, I gather, and certainly the institutions, the places, the cities.
EVA GEDIN: What he also told me is that he was really enjoying himself when he wrote fiction because as a journalist he always had to be very specific with facts and details and, you know, have the research done really well, but in his fiction writing he could be much more free, and he was enjoying himself.
JEFFREY BROWN: Can you fill in a little bit of — I am just wondering how much of a mystery of Stieg Larsson himself there is. I, probably like a lot of other people, just read that piece in the New York Times Magazine, and there was the questions of, you know, did he even write the books all himself, or how did he come to this. How do you see him as a person and as a writer?
EVA GEDIN: I was very impressed of what a good writer he was and there is no doubt that he wrote those books. It was evident when we edited the text, and if you read his other works — he wrote some nonfiction books and his articles — you can clearly hear his voice, that strength he had in his commitment. There is no doubt that he wrote those books. I think it’s just, what became the mystery is that Stieg isn’t here with us, so we can’t ask him. I worked with him for about nine or ten months and, of course, I got to know him a little bit, but of course we all of a lot more questions that we would have liked to posed to Stieg himself.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, what questions do you have?
EVA GEDIN: For example, in the first book when he describes the serial killer — is this really truthful and have you exaggerated a bit, should we take some parts down? He said, well, listen, I know cases like this; this is based on several cases I’ve known. I’ve read police reports and he had it all in his mind. I think in that way he was a bit Lisbeth Salander. He has if not a photographic memory, he has a fantastic mind to remember details and things and he was great storyteller. This was a guy that you would have a lot of fun with because he could tell those fantastic stories.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well the third book is now out. Is that it? Or is there a chance for anymore?
EVA GEDIN: No. Well, we have been totally focused on those three books because we set up the contracts for those three books. He was talking about being able to write more books about Salander and Blomkvist in this series, but we never had time to talk specifically about a fourth book or how much he had written on the fourth manuscript. That came as a surprise to me long after his death that there actually existed a fourth manuscript, but since I haven’t seen it, I couldn’t sort of comment on it, actually. My guess is no. We have to be satisfied with those three fantastic novels he did write.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right. Eva Gedin on Stieg Larsson’s life and work. Thank you very much for talking with us.
EVA GEDIN: Thank you.