Of Prescience or Promotion?
Heart Troubles in The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest
Some minor plot elements of the third Millennium novel
(The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest) are discussed in the following post.
After the middle-aged, pudgy, yet somehow debonair journalist Mikael Blomkvist sleeps with his new love interest in the third Millennium novel, he wakes up to find that she has already been out and come back.
“I’ve been running. You should come along.”
“If I tried to go at your pace, I’d have a heart attack on Norr Mälarstrand.” (p. 483)*
Anyone reading these lines will likely recall how Stieg Larsson died. The elevators didn’t work one day, so he took the stairs and had a heart attack. All his friends say he ate junk food, smoked, didn’t exercise, and was generally stressed from constant work—so his death was not all that surprising.
What is surprising is the number of times that a character mentions or experiences heart trouble. Just so, when Blomkvist runs out of the apartment in pursuit of a time-sensitive lead in the investigation, he muses on his poor physical condition:
Blomkvist jogged down to Götgatan and sped up toward Slussen. When he reached Slussplan he was badly out of breath. Maybe Figuerola had a point. He was not going to make it. He looked about for a taxi. (p. 491)
It’s not only Blomkvist whose health comes into question in this novel. Erika Berger takes over as Editor in Chief of SMP, replacing an older man who has heart trouble. She meets with him at the beginning of her transition period.
“How are you feeling?” Berger said…
… “You walk around feeling like a teenager and immortal your whole life, and suddenly there isn’t much time left. But one thing is for sure—I don’t mean to spend the rest of it in this glass cage.”
He rubbed his chest. He had heart and artery problems… (p. 200)
Soon after, this ailing Editor in Chief keels over in his office and dies—without ever getting out of his glass cage.
Even Erika Berger suffers the effects of job related stress. After just three weeks at her new high status job, she begins to experience the downside of success:
Berger had parked two hundred metres from the restaurant and was halfway to her car when she felt such strong heart palpitations that she had to stop and lean against a wall. She felt sick.
…She had been working fifteen hours a day since May 1. That was almost three weeks. How would she feel after three years? (p. 355)
It certainly sounds like Larsson was rather preoccupied by the thought of heart troubles. And if all this doesn’t strike you as prescient enough, there is always the scene where Blomkvist laments the fact that his murdered colleague, Dag Svensson, will never see his work finally published—will never see his own success:
For Blomkvist, it was at that desk that the Zalachenko affair had begun. He wished that Svensson had been able to see the conclusion of it. A pile of copies of his just-published book was on the table next to Blomkvist’s own about the Section.
You would have loved this moment, Dag. (p. 680)
It is hard not to feel a pang of sadness, thinking again about how Stieg Larsson himself ‘would have loved’ to witness his own moment of fame. One wonders whether Larsson feared the unusual fate that befell him; indeed, it almost sounds like it was a minor obsession, as though he kept thinking, What if all my bad habits catch up with me just at the wrong moment? Yet if he did think this, then I’d be willing to bet he followed that thought with, I’m glad I haven’t lived only in the glass box (important though it may be); if I have to be stressed, I’m glad I wrote something crazily entertaining as well!
At least I like to think of it that way. But I can’t help wondering whether in the years since Larsson’s death in 2004 some savvy editors added in these elements themselves to promote the myth of authorial genius and the sale of ever more Millennium books. I hope not, but I’m guessing they’d never tell us if they did.
*All page numbers refer to the British edition of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest (MacLehose Press 2009).