Asni: Multimedia Art & Design
ARTWORK OF THE MONTH: Selected drawings available on Ebay. A different selection every month!
NEW SHEET MUSIC: Huete Dances vol. 3 now available for pre-order – ships early December
NOW AVAILABLE: New Zealand Film Locations map: A3 poster * Snowflake Christmas/seasonal card * Queen Galadriel holiday card
TREAT YOURSELF TO SOME MUSIC:
Harp sheet music store * Travels in Middle Earth CD
Asni the Harper digital downloads: CD Baby ** Amazon MP3 * iTunes
Also available: Music CDs * Sheet music * Greeting cards * New Zealand photography
- In this newsletter:
- *** Birthday Presents
- *** News and Current Projects
- *** Fractal Art from The Netherlands: Tais Teng
- *** Acts of Love: Stieg Larsson's "Millennium" Trilogy (part 4)
The nicest birthday present I got in a long while, was from my friend Pia Örjeheim in Stockholm. After trying vainly to buy things on the internet from a couple of Swedish websites, I asked her if she'd be able to buy the Swedish edition of Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy for me, plus the original TV cut of the Swedish film version. Of course my intention was to pay for them myself – but when I asked how much I owed her, she declared that it was my birthday present.
This made me really happy – I have been thinking lately, that I am lucky to be blessed with some friends who really deserve that name. I don't see them often, seeing that my circle of friends is rather spread out across the globe, but out of sight is definitely not out of mind.
So now I am finally learning Swedish: being able to read the original version of the Stieg Larsson books is great. It turns out that the English translation is rather inaccurate in places, leaving out whole passages particularly when it comes to the character's relationships, and changing the flavour. Or at least, the translator evidently read some passages differently than I do!
The original Swedish TV version of the film is rather longer than the cinema version, splitting the story into six episodes. It stays closer to the books, and there are quite a number of scenes which I hadn't seen before. Some parts got completely re-cut, with scenes dropped and different ones added in – but I'll spare you a detailed analysis. The DVD is also in Swedish of course, and offers a choice of subtitles in Swedish for the hearing impaired, Norwegian, Danish, or Finnish. The hearing impaired subtitles are useful because I can stop the film and look things up in Google Translate... yes, I am meticulous. Though I have to say, I am tempted to switch on the Finnish subtitles. If that does not blow my brain fuses, surely nothing will!
A couple of weeks ago, we had a tropical cyclone heading in the general direction of New Zealand, and everyone was waiting anxiously for an entire weekend for when all hell would break lose. It didn't. Northland got a bit of rough weather, to be sure – but the wind we got down here was nothing out of the ordinary: we get a lot of strong winds in Featherston, and there have been worse storms earlier in the season.
On the upside, the cyclone, or whatever was left of it, brought with it some nice hot tropical air, so March finally gave us some of that hot sunny summer weather we've been missing in February. I headed out to Castlepoint and went for my first proper swim this summer. Seeing that we are now past the Equinox, it probably also was my last for the season. But who knows – let's hope for a nice sunny weekend, and I might repeat the exercise!
The other most memorable event this month was that I bought myself a sofa. I never managed to go anywhere for my birthday, so I decided to get some new furniture instead – and I'd been getting rather tired of that less-than-comfortable futon bedsofa I'd bought when I moved in here. I'll put it back on Trademe: chances are it will fund my new purchase, or even make me a few dollars profit.
Trademe is an excellent source for used furniture, especially in the Wairarapa, with its genteel country homesteads. Sofas are a bit tricky, because they tend to be worn down and smelly when people sell them used, but once in a while one does find a gem. I paid all of $ 45 for the item you can admire in the photo above: it's well made, it's comfy, it's got feather stuffed cushions that don't go out of shape, and it's hardly worn. The only sign of age is that the fabric is ever so slightly faded on top of the armrests. It was clean for a used sofa to begin with, and after giving it a good rinse with laundry detergent – and washing the cushion covers, which come off – it is now as good as new. I've seen sofas like this in antique stores, where they tend to go for several hundred dollars. At least.
Plus, the colour scheme matches the upholstery on my dinner chairs – also a Trademe purchase – which makes it look like deliberate home design, rather than cheap hodgepodge from Trademe. It was sold by someone in Greytown – the next town over – and when it turned out that it was too large by a few inches to fit in my little Holden Barina, I borrowed a neighbour's car which could fit it no problem. I'm sitting on it as I write. The only problem is, now I don't feel like ever getting up from that sofa again.
Then a couple of days ago, I was having a cup of tea with Mary, my horticulture tutor, and discussing my next illustration job: she needed some more images for the Open Polytechnic teaching materials she is writing.
As we were talking, the telephone rang. I let it ring – for the last couple of years, all the phone calls I have had were surveys or someone trying to sell me stuff, if it wasn't ominous silence, or a wrong number.
When I picked up the message on the answering machine in the evening, it turned out that I'd had a call from a dwarf: Bifur, to be precise. Bifur plays in a band, together with his wife, and as their day job they run a talent agency. I'd met them at the Hobbit premiere party a couple of years ago. He asked to ring him back, because he thought he might have a little job for me. Which needless to say, I did quite promptly. So it looks like I'll be dusting off the old harp for a bit next month, and schedule a paid trip to Hobbiton! Expect to hear more in the next newsletter.
Life remains interesting, that much is for sure.
News & Current Projects
Seeing that Easter is coming up, and I have spent the last several months assiduously sketching and graphicking hares, I thought it would be a good idea to print some Easter cards! These two illustrations are for my upcoming children's picture book. They will probably not be the exact same illustrations that will end up in the finished book – it's all still very much a work in progress. But think of it this way: If the book becomes a bestseller, they'll be highly collectable rarities, and fetch a good price on Ebay! (I did say "if") :D
Children's picture book work-in-progress: Pine tree
Work on the book is progressing apace. This month, I have started thinking about some environments. The story is a traditional tale from Estonia: it's called "Why the Hare has a Split Upper Lip". It starts with a big family meeting of the hares (upper lips intact – in case you wondered) – on a moonlight night in early summer, under a big old pine tree. I imagine one of those white nights you get up north, when it doesn't really get properly dark anyway, and with the full moon shining. It's a great opportunity to create a dreamy fairytale atmosphere, and give full rein to my love of Nordic forests and landscapes.
The pine tree is from around here, though: I spotted a likely candidate a little while ago, and last month I finally got on my bike and sketched it. The sketch served as a basis for creating the tree in the computer programme I use – Adobe Illustrator, a vector based graphics software. I played around a bit to find a suitable colour scheme, and eventually added in a full moon, and some tentative spring flowers. You can follow the process through the work-in-progress sequence I have included above!
What with all the work on the book, and harvesting vegetables, and buying furniture, there hasn't been all that much time this month to stand in the garden and paint flowers. At the moment, there seem to be a lot of of yellows, oranges, dark reds and maroons going on – and combinations thereof. Apart from the Mexican hats and rudbeckias, the garden is also resplendent with marigolds – and then there are the sunflowers. I'd been hoping to slip in another painting before the end of the month, but then I landed a paid illustration job ... which has priority over "maybe I'll sell a painting". At least until I start selling my paintings lots! :)
Still, I did make my monthly target of two new pictures: they are small canvasses this time, 12 x 12 inches / 30 x 30 cm. They'll be easier to ship overseas than the larger formats I have been working on. These two images are spoken for – I may put one of them up for sale next month, but I don't know which one yet. And there will be more autumn flowers next month, promise.
Artwork of the month: Nude pencil studies, now available on Ebay
ARTWORK OF THE MONTH: it will be a while yet before I run out of A3 size life drawing studies: this time, I've selected two sheets of shorter gestural poses (one of them from the waist up only), and one 40 minute pose of a sitting woman. View my Ebay listings here.
On Amazing Stories, it's been the time of the Doctor: after taking my readers for A Spin in the Tardis last month, this month I have totally indulged myself: His Hotness the Doctor is an unabashed collection of male eye candy. But no worries: the second post this month features on The Doctor's Companions, and they are mostly female. And mostly pretty hot, too. Visit my author page, with a list of all my blog posts on Amazing Stories.
Timely on my birthday, CD Baby sent me a payment of US $ 102.46 from my music downloads, CD sales, and streaming. OK so it took 10 months to accumulate this much: but it was good timing, and I take it as a good omen for my next spin around the sun. Music tracks for download are available from CD Baby, iTunes, and Amazon Mp3.
You can also find some of my tracks on streaming sites: Spotify and XBox Music in particular, show up on my statement quite a lot. Which would seem to indicate that the average age of my audience has come down a bit from what it used to be, back when I was playing churches in Germany. We call this future proofing.
These sites only pay fractions of a penny per stream, but quantity is key: and I am very pleased that one of the tracks I wrote and mixed myself, Dwarven Dub, is getting a pretty solid amount of plays! So hey – if you want to support this artist, go to Spotify and put me on permanent shuffle. ;)
Which reminds me, I have uploaded a new track to be available for download: Es kommt ein Schiff geladen, the German Christmas carol I recorded last year. This is probably the wrong time of year to promote a Christmas carol, but, well, it is pretty heathen and it is all about sailing. Don't wait for next Christmas: listen to it here!
I am now indeed drowning in tomatoes. I wish to point out that the bowlful pictured with my new sofa, is what I've been getting out of the garden every two or three days for the last few weeks. I've started skinning and freezing them – so I won't have to use tinned tomatoes this winter. Next thing I'll be looking into, is how to make sun dried tomatoes. Well – put them in the sun and dry them, I suppose!
This is only the first lot of tomatoes I planted, and there are still plenty of green fruit on the bush. The second batch is only just finishing blossoming. These are the cooking tomatoes, and then I also have another kind of tomato for salads and eating raw, which is ripening away in more modest quantities by the side of the house. Well – growing tomatoes totally worked, this year.
Green beans and zucchini have also been more than I can eat immediately. I've been able to put a couple of bags of green beans in the freezer, for those vegetable-scanty winter days. The zucchini I'm going to pickle. Or maybe I'll just make a great big bowl of vegetable sauce and put it in the freezer. Or Italian style pickled zucchini. Or all of the above.
The eggplant, capsicum and chili have been a bit more hesitant. I harvested my first homegrown eggplant yesterday. There are some capsicums growing, but they have a way to go yet before they are ripe. So far the autumn has been nice and warm, let's hope it stays that way for a bit!
I am now only four assignments away from completing my horticulture certificate. The last four units all involve practical tasks: I've been growing some plants from seed over the last couple of months, and as soon as I finish this newsletter I'll get started on some cuttings. There is also a unit on pruning – which is garden work I'll need to do anyway. The last unit is a revegetation project – this is being organized by our tutor, and I already attended two out of the three obligatory work stints last year. I've put the summer hole to good use and am running slightly ahead with my assignments, so I'm not worried about being able to complete the course. Then I'll apply for the prize for "person with the most strange collection of qualifications".
Fractal Art from The Netherlands: Tais Teng
In my previous two newsletters, I have introduced two fractal artists from Sweden, Ingvar Kullberg and Johan Andersson. Next up, an illustrator and writer from the Netherlands, who integrates fractals in his illustration work: Tais Teng, who calls himself that because the name he was born with – Thijs van Ebbenhorst Tengbergen – was rather unpronounceable, and would also be hard to fit on the spine of a book!
Tais Teng is a well established and prolific science fiction and horror writer in his own language Dutch: he has written everything from radio play to hefty fantasy trilogies. He has also had several stories and one novel published in English. As an illustrator, he does not have to restrict himself to the relatively small Dutch language market, and he has made several hundred covers and interior illustrations for science fiction, horror, fantasy and young adult fiction – most notably the Jack Vance e-books.
Here is what he wrote in reply to my questions:
"I like to do both writing and illustration. With some Dutch publishers I could do it as a kind of multimedia project, writing the book, doing the a wrap-around cover and lots of interior illustrations. I next make a dedicated website and a book trailer: see for instance my Gran Terre trilogy. For the novel The Emerald Boy, which was published in the USA, I even made some mini computer games."
"One of the most important things for an artist is to keep painting and developing. It is as important as breathing for me. When I first aimed for the English language market I mostly sold pictures I had already made. That is now changing slowly with more commissions coming in. It feels nicer if I am painting something that is going to be used. I am very prolific: doing several pictures a week."
"Like most of my generation (1952), I started out as as a traditional artist. I can still use all those techniques : scraper-board, oil, airbrush, etching. And before the computer I did anything from very small logos to murals. Thank all the gods and demons for the computer: the paint on your screen dries in a millisecond and doesn't take a fortnight like oils!"
"Nowadays I mostly work in a kind of mixed media, using sketches, photographs and digital painting. All the pictures I uses for photomanipulations are my own: I am also an avid photographer. I hate using stock made by others: it feels like cheating. I want a picture to be my own creation. If I use photographs they are always HDR, which already have a painterly look at the start. "
"I use fractals for about anything: texture, sky background, moving water. I have hundreds of them and I make them using the free-ware program Apophysis. The start of a picture looks like pure chaos: half a dozen fragments I am down or upsizing, warping, moving around. it is a bit like making a mosaic with all pieces as changeable as chameleons."
Q: A lot of your art has a Lovecraft theme. What attracts you to this writer?
"When horror was popular in my country, I was at least middling famous as a horror writer. And Lovecraft, he is about our patron-saint. Cthulhu rules, Ia Shub Niggurath! and more heartfelt gibberings. I even have a Lovecraft inspired English e-book collection, Lovecraft, my love."
Q: Could you say a few words about some of your pieces?
Young Ophelia: The Pre-Raphaelites and horror writers like Edgar Allan Poe saw death as something exquisite and beautiful, with their dead lovers lying on the bier, pale as porcelain. The epitome is Ophelia drifting down the stream. I have seen the corpses of of several of my best friends, and there is nothing beautiful or aesthetic there. Young Ophelia is about death being horrible and hopeless. I made a series of Creepy Dolls because those old Victorian dolls seemed to me the opposite of cuddly. My friend and colleague Mike Jansen published a collection called Ophelia in my arms, and this was the perfect cover.
The Witch's Holiday: This is a picture that almost straight from photograph to painting: a goat skull I saw at the terrace of a Greek tavern, with some greek orthodox altarpieces and Roman grave gifts added. Mostly photomanipulation. It has been used twice: once for one of my own e-book versions of my best known YA horror series, and later as a cover for English poems that are still to be published.
Fishing for Shoggoths: One of my Lovecraft pictures, mostly composed of fractals and a photograph of a Greek fisherman who was wading through a shallow harbour. The idea was that even in a Lovecraftian setting economics still hold, letting outsiders do the real shitty jobs like fishing for shoggoths. I like pictures where the caption suggests a story, or with the story an integral part.
Hindu Steampunk: I deeply love Steampunk, and India is quintessentially British, more than England itself. Steam-driven gods, miraculous rays, it all fits.
Some of Tais Teng's stories are available online on his website. And if you are looking for a book or ebook cover, make sure to check out his DeviantArt gallery – several of his artworks are still up for grabs and available for licensing.
Acts of Love: Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy – part 4
*** SPOILER WARNING: this essay reveals major plot points in Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy : Men Who Hate Women (aka The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) – The Girl who Played with Fire – The Cloud Castle Blew Up (aka The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest)
Several reviewers have accused Stieg Larsson of acting out a male fantasy, when he cast his alter ego Mikael Blomkvist as a wildly successful lady's man – and several have also questioned how believable it is that an average middle aged guy who is going a bit stout around the waist, should be the object of desire for all those good-looking, wealthy, sophisticated professional women. Which makes me wonder if these reviewers genuinely confuse real life experience with the narrative stereotypes of pulp fiction.
Maybe I know weird guys, but as far as I can tell, most any male person I know well enough to have an idea what they might think on this topic, would regard Mikael's proneness to be aggressively sexually predated on, as a complete male nightmare. Lisbeth – the stubbornly solitary girl who has been emotionally crippled to the point of social disability – is the only one of the women in the book who ever responds to Mikael's need for emotional closeness. She is also the only one whom we ever see share his bed without instantly demanding that he make love to her. Every one of the other women he takes up with sees him exclusively as a sexual object – just in the way that men are often accused of seeing women.
The women Mikael has casual affairs with, are usually his own age, or older. In the various sexual relationships he enters in the course of the narrative, Mikael never takes the initiative: he is always the seduced. Sometimes quite aggressively! He has an uncomplicated attitude toward sex, and puts women at ease – and he also makes it clear from the outset that he does not offer or expect any sort of commitment. He does know how to put himself in the way of a potential seduction: his first act when he arrives in his temporary exile in Hedeby, is to look for a potential bedmate. He initially sets his sights on Susanne of the Bridge Cafe, but when she shows no interest, he eventually starts an affair with Cecilia Vanger, the niece of his employer, who is ten years his senior. She is also, technically, one of the suspects in the murder case he is investigating.
I find it interesting that Cecilia's rather aggressive seduction of Mikael is told in parallel with Bjurman's sexual assault on Lisbeth. The reader can't help but notice the similarities in the two situations – if Mikael were a female character and Cecilia male, we would read her behavior as completely inappropriate. The one crucial difference is that Cecilia, unlike Bjurman, does not have legal and financial control over Mikael (although as the niece of his employer, she could, and later does, make his life in Hedeby difficult) – or the physical strength to force him into compliance
Michael goes along with it – not without a moment's hesitation – and he also complies with all the rules Cecilia puts into place, which are quite humiliating: he only sees her when she is in the mood for it, he has to sneak into her house after dark so that no one will notice (which in a tiny rural community like Hedeby, is a bit of a joke – of course everyone notices) – and Cecilia kicks him out of bed after they have made love. But at this point Mikael is on such an emotional low, and so desperate for some form of human warmth and connection, that he'll go along with anything. He even misses prison, when he returns to Hedeby after serving his sentence – because at least it gave him some sense of companionship!
The affair with Cecilia comes to an end when Erika turns up in Hedeby unannounced, and walks into Mikael's bedroom without knocking – just when he has finally convinced Cecilia to stay over at his place for the night.
Erika repeatedly asserts that "she stays out of Mikael's affairs", and that "if Mikael is ever serious about someone, she will stay out of the way" – but this episode illustrates how Erika really reacts to her rivals: she has already caused Cecilia a great deal of embarrassment by walking in on them, but rather than staying out of their way, Erika makes breakfast and shares it with them: staking a claim of ownership on Mikael, and making Cecilia even more uncomfortable. When she is alone with Mikael, Erika jokingly but plainly expresses her displeasure at having come all the way from Stockholm to find him otherwise occupied, and makes some very disrespectful remarks about Cecilia behind her back.
Mikael himself is trying to "reassure" Cecilia by telling her that he and Erika "stay out of each other's romances", which has the precise effect of making it clear to Cecilia that he does not think of their relationship as anything more than that. It might even be that he finds Erika's possessive interference quite useful, any time another woman begins to expect some form of commitment from him, which he is not willing to give. Or it might be that as soon as Erika appears, he dances to her tune. In that sense, she acts almost more like a jealous parent, who will not allow their children to grow up or get close to anyone else.
Cecilia keeps her distance from then on, refusing to see or speak to Mikael – which, apart from being unpleasant in itself, also puts a spanner in his criminal investigations. He may not have thought of Cecilia as a long term relationship – after all, she started the affair on the explicit understanding that Mikael would be her "sometimes lover" – but he is invested enough to still try to see her and speak to her several months later, when he pays his last visit to Hedeby after his assignment is done.
In her report on Mikael, Lisbeth honed straight in on the fact that Erika was responsible for the breakup of Mikael's marriage. I don't think Lisbeth's dislike of Erika is just pure gut jealousy: rather, she is aware of the stranglehold Erika has on Mikael's emotional life, and feels threatened by it. During the time when she is happily holed up in Sandhamn with Mikael, while he is working on his book about Wennerström, she perceives Erika as "some indefinable disturbance in her life". Mikael himself is avoiding Erika during this time, refusing to see or call her, and communicating only via email. Ostensibly, this is because he feels ashamed that he has agreed to cover up Martin Vanger's story for Harriet's and Henrik's sake, but I believe that he also – consciously or subconsciously – wants to protect his relationship with Lisbeth from her manipulations.
Erika is not a negative character: she is competent and loyal, she shares Mikael's high moral standards when it comes to their profession, and Mikael trusts her unequivocally. She is crucial to the successful running of Millennium magazine: Mikael is the one with the talent for sussing out a great story, but Erika has the background and social connections, as well as the leadership skills to act as editor in chief. She raises the money and secures support for the magazine. She is an excellent boss, who manages people by nurturing them, but is also able to put her foot down where necessary. These are skills which Mikael lacks: as we find out in book three, when Erika takes on another job, and Mikael basically uses the magazine as a platform to lend support to Lisbeth's cause, with little regard to the long term needs of the magazine and its employees.
Erika supports Mikael's efforts to prove Lisbeth's innocence – even though she herself is not quite so convinced – and she shares his outrage at the way her case is being reported in the media. She is the first person Mikael takes into his confidence when he comes across the classified file which proves the massive infringement on Lisbeth's civil rights that had her placed in a mental asylum on a fake diagnosis, and she continues to support Lisbeth's cause when she takes on the job as editor in chief of a major daily newspaper.
At the same time, Erika stubbornly refuses to acknowledge that Mikael's efforts to investigate Lisbeth's case have a personal, as well as a professional and moral dimension. The one time she meets Lisbeth face to face, she barely acknowledges her existence. She has been furious with Mikael for deserting Millennium magazine after his libel trial, but she herself puts career considerations before personal loyalty when she accepts another job offer, just when Mikael desperately needs everyone's support to put together a special issue about Lisbeth's story, in order to publicize the incriminating information he has in his hands in time for Lisbeth's trial.
Erika is what Germaine Greer would classify as a "lifestyle feminist": She is a privileged woman from a moneyed background, with social connections, university education, and a good career. Apart from her work, her main quest in life seems to be to achieve the perfect orgasm – and she is lucky enough to have a husband who allows her to continue having sexual relations with another man. She is the type of woman for whom feminist aims seem to come down to the right to have sex with whomever they please, whenever they please. She does not have to fight against authority figures who brutally abuse the power they have been given over her, in an overwhelmingly unjust system that disadvantages her every which way, like Lisbeth does.
In the third novel, Erika has her own separate storyline independent of her relationship to Mikael. Due to the privileges of her social class, she is in a position to take on high profile jobs where women continue to be underrepresented – in this sense her defection from Millennium magazine, in order to take up the job as editor in chief of a national newspaper known for its "old boys club" power structures, is not just selfish career thinking, but also a political move in support of the feminist cause.
Unfortunately, her attempt at cracking the glass ceiling does not go well: she has to contend with recalcitrant subordinates, patronizing superiors who make it impossible for her to do the job she has been hired to do, and a serious case of workplace bullying. Her stress levels go through the roof. Eventually she is forced to resign out of moral considerations, when she is asked to suppress a negative story about the man who hired her.
In the end it is Lisbeth, who from her hospital bed, in the midst of preparing for her all-important trial, also helps Erika track down the man who sent her obscene emails, and broke into her house. On Lisbeth's part, it is an acknowledgement that she owes Erika for her support – but it also puts the record straight as to who is the more capable of the two women. One somehow doubts that Lisbeth would have been fazed by Poison Pen!
Mikael and Erika drift apart in the course of the three books – but it is a subtle shift, not a dramatic break. In book one, it was Erika whom Mikael called when he needed someone to talk. By book three, his whole focus is on Lisbeth, and his sister Annika – who in her capacity as lawyer, is defending Lisbeth – takes over as Mikael's confidante. Once Erika has left Millennium, they find that neither of them takes the initiative to see or talk to the other. When they meet again, it is over an urgent professional matter – and when Erika walks in, she briefly perceives Mikael as a complete stranger. They still spend the night together afterwards, but they now go to a hotel, instead of Mikael's flat. Their lack of enthusiasm is palpable – they are both overworked, stressed, and preoccupied with other matters, and so they simply fall asleep. However, Erika still makes sure that she gets what she paid for the next morning!
In the wake of the Wennerström affair, which propelled him to national celebrity status, Mikael gets way more attention from women than he is comfortable with. At one point, he makes a complaint to Erika about being sexually harassed at work, by a young colleague who is "no more subtle than a mare in heat" in her advances. Mikael finds this both tiresome and embarrassing, and has absolutely not the slightest inclination to take the young woman up on her offer, but is at the same time concerned about not hurting her feelings. He is also quite aware that if he should take up with someone this much younger, and employed at the magazine he owns, it would be a stain on his reputation, rather than hers – especially given the extra media scrutiny that his new celebrity status brings with it.
During the year that Lisbeth spends abroad, Mikael begins a low key casual affair with Harriet Vanger – the woman whose supposed murder he investigated in book one, and Cecilia Vanger's cousin. Harriet is by then CEO of the Vanger Corporation, a "pillar of the Swedish economy" – and she continues to run her deceased husband's large sheep farm in Australia. She is an internationally respected businesswoman with a busy traveling schedule, and she has no time to sustain a serious relationship. She also sits on Millennium's board, having taken over from Henrik, who put some of his money into the magazine when it was experiencing financial difficulties in the wake of Mikael's libel case.
Their relationship begins with a chance meeting in Sandhamn, when they talk the afternoon away. Harriet comes to realize that Mikael is almost the only person she can be completely open with, because he is one of the very few people who knows about her past. But from then on, Harriet's arrangement with Mikael amounts to stealthy meetings in her hotel room after the three-monthly board meetings – or whenever else she finds herself in Stockholm with a bit of spare time, and phones him in. It is at this point that the reader might start to wonder if Mikael ought not to charge money for his personal services?
It isn't entirely clear what Mikael's motivations are: Harriet is a beautiful woman, even in her fifties, and no doubt Mikael feels a connection with her, having delved so deep into her past. He feels pity for the way that the abuse she endured as a young girl, has affected her ability to have relationships with men. But it also seems that the fringe benefit of her meetings with Mikael are a major reason why Harriet decides to continue her involvement with Millennium, and support the magazine with her money and her business knowledge.
Is what Mikael feels straightforward attraction, or a do-gooder impulse to try to make up for the horrors of Harriet's teenage years? Does she represent an emotional connection back to his time in Hedeby – and by extension, Lisbeth? The reader is quite aware of the parallels that exist between Lisbeth and Harriet, even though Mikael cannot know this at this point in the story. Or is it on some level also a way for Mikael to grease his career path, by taking up with yet another older woman who is in a position of power?
The dynamics that play out in Mikael's relationships with Harriet and Erika are quite typical of what is experienced by professional women who have relationships with their superiors. Except that in Mikael's case, the power dynamics are not those of gender, but those of class. Both Erika and Harriet are from upper class, wealthy families, and have to some extent inherited their professional status – certainly Harriet, who had been groomed by Henrik as a possible future CEO of the Vanger Corporation before she disappeared.
Mikael's background is working class: he is a social climber, whose current status as magazine owner and minor celebrity is self made: based on talent, and on the social connections he has been able to make due to his personal charm
Erika's and Harriet's social background gives them access to connections and sources of funding from which Mikael continues to be excluded. Harriet owns Australia's 6th largest sheep farm, and a substantial portion of the shares in the Vanger Corporation. Erika has wealthy parents, and is married to a man who has inherited a large family home and grounds in the wealthy suburb Saltsjöbaden. Mikael has inherited a tiny cabin in Sandhamn, and he also owns a 65 m2 one-room converted attic in a particularly bohemian part of Södermalm, whose most redeeming feature is that it has a bit of a view. Hardly a luxury abode! It more resembles a glorified student flat.
Generally, Mikael gives the impression of someone who has somehow forgotten to grow up. He is wrapped up in his work, but socially, he is in some ways a fish out of water in the circles where he now moves. Perhaps some of the attraction Mikael feels for women like Erika or Harriet has to do with the fact that part of him still wonders why sophisticated upper class women like them would want to have anything to do with a working class boy like himself.
Part of the connection he feels with Lisbeth, undoubtedly stems from the fact that her social background is far more similar to his own, and they both share the experience of powerlessness, of being the underdog, that comes with it – quite regardless of their gender. They are far more comfortable being around each other, than Mikael appears to be with the other women in the story, very much including Erika. And now it is Mikael who can use his social and professional status, and his greater life experience, to make sure that Lisbeth's raw talent is put to good use, and that she gets the support she needs.
Halfway through the third book, Mikael starts an affair with Monica Figuerola, the Security Police officer who who appears out of the blue to take him to a secret meeting with Constitutional Protection, giving him the choice to come willingly, or be handcuffed – which as Mikael points out, is "hardly an invitation". A couple of days later, she gives him the same choice with regard to coming along to her flat, and being undressed.
Monica Figuerola is a 1.84 m tall, muscular, blonde, blue eyed, large chested, presumably healthily tanned workout fanatic, who also has an impossible collection of university degrees, and reads books about the Idea of God in the Ancient World (presumably this book – referencing real books and popular songs is a device Larsson employs on several occasions, as a way to add subtext to a character or situation). She goes around handcuffing blokes, and she voraciously wants to have sex.
Is she a Goddess of Antiquity, come to life in contemporary Stockholm? Or the perfect incarnation of the currently fashionable collective entertainment industry wet dream of the "strong woman"? This character is so overdrawn as to be almost cartoonish, a caricature in the midst of a novel whose great strength is its acute observation of how real 21th century people act and behave. Not to mention that her physique would also find the approval of certain members of the Vanger clan whom we've met in book one: a fine illustration of the Nazi ideal of the "Übermensch". She is also, in almost every respect, the exact opposite of Lisbeth.
Her emotional maturity, on the other hand, is that of a boy crazed 13 year old. While everyone else who has knowledge of Lisbeth's case is appalled by it, and puts in overtime on their own initiative, anxious to prevent a miscarriage of justice which would condemn an innocent, and perfectly sane citizen to a life term in a closed psychiatric ward, Security Police officer Monica Figuerola – appointed leader of the official, government sanctioned, super secret investigation – considers that this is a great time to go home and have lots of sex with the journalist who knows most about this case, and whom she has just recruited as "external advisor". Unless, of course, this is actually part of her job description – to "keep an eye" on Blomkvist. She claims that she follows a spontaneous impulse, and repeatedly emphasizes that her boss must not know about the affair – but then again, the very emphasis is suspicious, and no one ever really tells the truth in the third of the Millennium books.
Whatever her original motivation may have been, Figuerola certainly frets about the nature of her relationship with Mikael a lot more than she does about her work assignment. After dragging him into her bed three times in as many days, she already asks herself "where the relationship is leading", and whether or not she is in love. If he is a candidate for "man of her dreams", to settle down and have kids with (which she feels she ought to, at her age). Even though he snores. And smokes. And sleeps late. And doesn't exercise. And is notorious for sleeping around. And tells her plainly from the start that he is not interested in a steady girlfriend. And wanders off into the night because he has work to do, instead of coming with her to have sex. All of which – except the snoring, which is bad luck – are things which she immediately decides that he will need to change.
Figuerola's childish jealousy when Mikael has a strictly professional meeting with Erika, and her demands to know his whereabouts at any time, point at something darker. They are red flags for a personality with an exaggerated need for control: the kind of person who typically engages in domestic abuse. The whole episode mirrors Mikael's affair with Cecilia Vanger in book one: but where Cecilia's aggressive seduction of Mikael remained on a level where she did not actually have the power or physical strength to force him if he had not consented, Monica Figuerola is physically stronger than Mikael, and quite capable of handcuffing him forcibly – and she works for Säpo, the same organization whose members condoned the locking up of twelve year old Lisbeth Salander in a mental ward, because she was an inconvenient witness.
Figuerola is a reminder that the solution to gender based injustice and domestic violence, is not to simply invert the power relations between men and women. It is the nature of those power relations which are the problem – not who has the power, and who does not.
A lot of reviewers seem to read Monica Figuerola as a completely positive character – an epitome of the independent, self-assertive woman – and buy into the "seriousness" of her relationship with Mikael. If we are to take literal what it says on the page, it would appear that at a point in the story when Mikael has been in a state of constant emotional pain on Lisbeth's behalf through the best part of two novels – longing to see her again, terribly anxious about the outcome of her trial, not interested in meeting anyone or doing anything that does not have to do with helping her case, living in her flat for crying out loud – he suddenly swerves to the side and sails off into the sunset with a brand new girlfriend, a character who is only introduced halfway through the third novel.
If this was what the author genuinely intended, it is quite simply bad writing: a "Dea ex machina" solution to Mikael's emotional troubles, and one that denies his character any sort of growth. He'd be reset to zero, continuing to be the happy bumbling womanizer he was at the beginning of the story, at the beck and call of yet another dominant woman who is only interested in the having-sex part of their relationship.
I certainly don't get the impression that Stieg Larsson is the kind of writer who would fall back on such a half cooked plot solution, and I do not think that this is what he intended at all. Figuerola may or may not be putting on an act, but I am certain that Mikael does. He makes a deliberate decision to enter into this affair, and he uses Figuerola as a smoke screen – adopting Säpo's own strategy of "strategic disinformation" to protect himself and Lisbeth's secrets. Perhaps he also hopes that this way, he will have better access to whatever information Figuerola and her team find about the Zalachenko club: Mikael has deep reservations about Säpo as an institution, and doesn't trust them at all – just as they are reluctant to trust him.
For one thing, Mikael is anxious not to give away the location of Lisbeth's flat, where he is temporarily camping out because his own flat has been bugged. He certainly does not want the financial crime experts on the Säpo team to start asking questions how Lisbeth got the money to acquire such an expensive piece of real estate! Mikael can be reasonably sure that Figuerola will have done her background research, and in view of his well-known propensity to sleep around, it might seem suspicious if he was *not* going to jump into bed with an extremely physically attractive woman who presents herself to him on a silver plate. Keeping Figuerola busy might just prevent her from getting it into her head to have him followed. He still takes the precaution of spending two hours zigzagging across Stockholm on public transport, every time he goes from Figuerola's to Lisbeth's place – just in case.
For another thing, Mikael desperately needs to downplay and hide the extent of his emotional involvement. What Mikael does in the third book goes against every professional code of conduct and ethic guideline for journalistic objectivity: he is writing a story about a girl he is extremely partial to, without disclosing the nature of their relationship – and he plans to use his own magazine to publish the story, with the explicit intent of influencing a trial. Much of his information is based on Lisbeth's and Plague's illegal hacking activities, and he is also covering up the fact that Lisbeth illegally possessed herself of a very large amount of money. He is most certainly not unbiased, and he is covering up certain details that could harm Lisbeth in her trial. If any part of this became known, it would severely compromise Mikael's professional credibility, and render his whole strategy to support Lisbeth useless. Even the team at Millennium has to believe that Mikael is taking up Lisbeth's cause because it is a great story, not because he cares for her very much.
Gone are the days when the idea of covering up the story of Martin Vanger's basement, in order to save Harriet and Henrik the public disgrace that would invariably follow, tipped Mikael into a moral crisis because it went against the grain of his journalistic code of honour! Henrik Vanger told him then that he'd had to choose between his role as a journalist, and his role as a human being. Now he is making the same choice, and morally, he is doing the right thing. He has witnessed first hand how so-called "objective" journalists misrepresented Lisbeth's case: based on prejudice, and the information about her that was publicly available. It is precisely because he knows her well, and has managed to gain her trust, that he can be so sure that she is being wrongly accused.
It is worth noting that throughout the entire Figuerola episode, we never once witness Mikael's inner thoughts – beyond "he could not help being fascinated" by her extraordinary physique. We simply do not know what he really thinks about Figuerola. He may well welcome the physical distraction she offers him: Lisbeth has by then been transferred to prison, where he cannot reach her, so there is nothing for it but wait for the trial and try not to stress. But her bossiness and instant attempts to change his habits, her permanent nagging, her constant efforts to pry out information about his love life combined with a complete lack of interest in getting to know him for the person he is, her fretting and pushing for some sign of commitment, even her single-minded pursuit of sex as often as possible, quite clearly get on Mikael's nerves. There is a passive-aggressive snarkyness to Mikael's interactions with Figuerola, which he generally only adopts with people he dislikes. Mikael's inner monologue only switches back on once he enters the district court building to attend Lisbeth's trial – and there is absolutely no room for Monica Figuerola in there.
It seems to me that the whole episode should be read as a farce: an absurdist interlude, similar in tone to the over-the-topness of introducing a real life sports celebrity, Paolo Roberto, into the plot of the second novel. Their relationship is so clearly without any basis except physicality, that Figuerola's attempts to frame her lust in terms of utterly bourgeois expectations of "settling down and perhaps having children", complete with adopting the emotional vocabulary of soap opera, come across as a caricature – it is clearly not what she wants, but what she thinks she ought to want, and it could only turn into the relationship-from-hell. How many bad marriages, one wonders, have started this way?
As for Mikael, taking on Figuerola's voracious sexual appetite seems like the culmination of all his knight-errantly efforts on behalf of Lisbeth – which is quite in keeping with this character! He is doing what he does best.
On another level, the Monica Figuerola episode is also "strategic disinformation" of the reader. On the face of it, it really does read as if Mikael admits that he is in love with Figuerola, and that they will continue their relationship beyond the end of the book. There are two scenes in particular, which create this impression. One is a conversation between Figuerola and Mikael when they spend the weekend together at Sandhamn: Figuerola is at her most teeth grindingly obnoxious, quizzing him about his former lovers and fishing for some promise of commitment, and Mikael, who keeps repeating that he is not interested in a permanent relationship, is clearly trying not to lose his temper.
In the course of the conversation, Figuerola gets Mikael to admit that maybe it could be said that he is in love with Lisbeth – and also with Erika, and perhaps some other people as well. Figuerola then makes the assumption that she is one of those people, and Mikael nods. Which could mean "yes", or it could mean "neither confirm or deny". We are reminded of a scene at the beginning of book two, when Lisbeth is quizzed by a police officer on Grenada regarding the disappearance of a hotel guest during the previous night's storm: Lisbeth nods to all of the officer's assumptions, regardless if they are true or not.
A little later – perhaps just to shut her up – Mikael makes a little speech to the effect that Figuerola is the most "interesting" person he has met in a while, that he feels their relationship took off at full speed (no kidding!), that he fell for her the moment she picked him up outside his apartment, and that "the few times I've slept at my place since then, I've woken up in the middle of the night wanting you". But as far as we are aware, for the last couple of months Mikael has been to his own apartment only to fetch the mail, and get a change of clothing. So this would seem like an odd choice of wording!
What the scene really does, is underline that Mikael was always pretty serious about Lisbeth: He doesn't invite just anyone to come to Sandhamn, and Lisbeth stayed there with him for an extended period of time while he was working on a book – which would usually be a time when he'd prefer solitude. Mikael and Lisbeth's relationship is all about enjoying each other's company – they easily slip into a routine which is comfortable for them both, and they also like to have sex. Mikael and Figuerola's relationship is all about having sex – and they put up with each other's company for the sake of it. Clearly they haven't got much to say to each other, for they end up sitting in silence until it is time to go to bed.
One reason for the reader's confusion might be that Stieg Larsson does not make Figuerola unlikable: she comes across more like a force of nature, a Goddess of Antiquity descended on modern Stockholm, unencumbered by empathy and sensitivity for other people's feelings, a happy and completely selfish child. She is a nagging pain in the butt, who shuts down her computer at 5 pm and takes weekends off to have sex while everyone else is working themselves to a sliver, but she is still the most competent officer at Säpo – she makes a real contribution to getting at the evidence that will exonerate Lisbeth, and she does manage to save Mikael's life.
It is precisely Figuerola's private fixation on Mikael that makes her catch on, in the nick of time, to the fact that the Zalanchenko club is planning to assassinate him – so the police can rush in and pull the gunman off his back. But in true Figuerola style, she leaves the dangerous mission of entering a building where a shooting is in full swing to her police colleagues, preferring to stay outside and keep the shooter's accomplice in check.
Figuerola meets Erika Berger on this occasion, and reacts with a childish jealousy which makes it immediately evident to Erika that there is something going on with her and Mikael. Erika graciously gives her permission to spend the night with Mikael – adressing her just like one would a spoilt child – and Figuerola shrugs and accepts. Usually the point when Erika appears on the scene, is when all of Mikael's other involvements are doomed to come to an end. One wonders what will happen with these two women? Is Erika perhaps relieved because she senses that Figuerola, unlike Lisbeth, is no real competition for Mikael's affections?
The other scene which is designed to lead the reader astray, happens at the Millennium offices, the evening after Lisbeth has won her trial. Mikael is relieved – he "thinks he is happy", but he really seems rather subdued: he still has had no chance to see or speak to Lisbeth. Annika has told him that she'll be kept at Police Headquarters until about 9 pm. Erika, who is now back at Millennium, asks Mikael what he plans to do later in the evening. Mikael is about to say something to the effect that he has other plans, and she fills in "Figuerola". Mikael nods (again!). Erika asks if he is "serious" about her, and states that Figuerola is "terribly in love" with him. Mikael replies "I think I'm in love with her too."
But is it Figuerola he is thinking about at that moment? Hardly. In the next paragraph, Armansky reminds Mikael how Lisbeth was laughing with him when they'd known each other only for a few hours – and that he himself never managed to make her laugh, much as he tried to be Lisbeth's friend. A few pages later we learn that Annika and Lisbeth have in fact been held up until after midnight, and that Mikael has been ringing Annika's cellphone every ten minutes for the last few hours, wanting to speak to Lisbeth. There is no way he was going to do that from Figuerola's flat, given her permanent jealous nagging on the topic of the other women in Mikael's life!
Inconsistencies of this sort could, of course, be accidents or oversights: particularly in a plot of this amount of complexity. Stieg Larsson uses the elegantly simple ploy of giving us a clear timeline of events in the chapter headings – we always know what day it is, and he is also careful about stating the exact time when events take place, a lot of the time. it is possible to plot the events of the story on a fairly tight time grid. This helps both the reader and the author not to lose their way among the multiple plot lines. In my second reading of the books, I have paid particular attention to how many continuity errors there are: and I have found practically none. Which is quite a remarkable feat in and of itself! So it stands to reason that in the very few instances when something does not add up, the author put it there on purpose.
So is Mikael purposely telling Erika a lie? Does he use Figuerola as a decoy to detract Erika's attention, and protect his relationship with Lisbeth? It seems out of character for him – in book one, he stated explicitly that lying to Erika is not an option he'll consider. But Mikael's journey through the three books has been to develop a healthy dose of self-protective not-so-niceness. He started out as the man with no secrets, and now he has quite a few – even if most of them are really Lisbeth's secrets.
Mikael has been drifting apart from Erika, and no doubt he feels betrayed by her defection from Millennium in the middle of a crisis, after she'd been giving him such a hard time about accepting Henrik Vanger's job in Hedeby. He has always been reluctant to discuss Lisbeth with Erika: he somehow forgets to phone her when Lisbeth is around, he avoided Erika the whole time he was with Lisbeth in Sandhamn, and he "forgets" to tell her about the incident on Lundagatan, when he chances to witness Lisbeth being attacked by a couple of biker types at the beginning of book two. When he needs to talk about his personal relationship to Lisbeth, he confides in his sister Annika instead – and by book three, she has taken Erika's place as Mikael's go-to person for emotional support.
As to Figuerola, I think that Stieg Larsson tells us, with a twinkle in his eye, what becomes of her: One of the people she has been hunting all along is Jonas Sandberg, a man whom she notices to be "in very good shape", and who moreover has the same job: he heads the "Operations Department" of the Zalanchenko club, where he is in charge of organizing surveillance and hiring hit men, just like she is Head of Operations for Constitutional Protection. When her department stages the arrest of the members of the Zalachenko club, Figuerola finds Sandberg in his underpants, and she gets to use her handcuffs. He will be in prison for the next decade or so: so he won't be allowed to smoke, and she'll always know where he is. That should suit Figuerola's requirements admirably! Let's hope he does not snore.
At the beginning of the story, Mikael gives the impression of a man who has given up trying for something better in his life. He is successful in his profession, though it is not quite what he really wanted to do: his dream was to become a crime reporter, but he winds up as a financial reporter instead. Although there certainly is an overlap, as it turns out when Mikael begins to investigate Eric Wennerström's financial imperium! In his personal life, Mikael has settled for being Erika Berger's personal toy boy, as well as whatever opportunities for casual affairs might come across his path. He suffers from a sense of inadequacy after the breakup of his marriage, and does not seem to ever actually fight for a relationship – until he meets Lisbeth.
Mikael has some difficulty processing his own emotions: we learn this in the first few pages, when he has just been handed the verdict of the Wennerström trial. He'd resigned himself to inevitable defeat and sat calmly through the trial without feeling anything in particular, but afterwards he suddenly has a strong physical reaction, as he ponders the consequences of the verdict for his finances, and his professional credibility.
This is a trait which plays out in Mikael's relationship with Lisbeth: to the observant reader, it would appear that right from the start, Mikael acts very much like a man freshly in love. Even from their first meeting, he seems to feel that she is someone special: he remarks that he feels as if they are old friends, even though they have only just met. Their brief visit to London, when they tap Anita Vanger's telephone in order to locate Harriet, feels like a mini honeymoon: one imagines that Mikael enjoys booking a posh hotel, and showing Lisbeth around the city.
Mikael brings up the possibility that their relationship might turn into something long term fairly early on – even though he expresses it in negative terms: "No, you can't ignore our age difference. It's no sort of basis for a lasting relationship". On this occasion, it is Lisbeth who shies away from discussing an "awkward topic", and suggests that they have sex instead. The very fact that Lisbeth practically moves in with Mikael while he is in Sandhamn working on the Wennerström book, is obviously different from the usual pattern of Mikael's casual affairs – and it is certainly different from Lisbeth's solitary habits!
But Mikael insists on calling their relationship "friendship" rather than love – just like he also calls Erika Berger his "friend". He and Lisbeth are doing just fine as long as they live from day to day and don't reflect too much on the nature of their relationship. It is only when Lisbeth admits to herself that she has fallen in love – and when she begins to crave a sign of love returned, not just friendship and camaraderie, from Mikael, and instead sees him heading off to make love to Erika – that she can't cope with her own feelings, and radically breaks off the relationship.
*** To be continued
Arohanui, from Asni