Yes, All Women

DIGITAL PRINTS now available on Ebay
ARTWORK OF THE MONTH: Selected drawings available on Ebay. A different selection every month!

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Also available: Music CDs * Sheet music * Greeting cards * New Zealand photography

In this newsletter:
*** Yes, All Women
*** News and Current Projects
*** Help a Friend, Get a CD
*** Acts of Love: Stieg Larsson's "Millennium" Trilogy (part 6)

Yes, All Women

So, another mass shooting in the US – one is almost tempted to get a bit jaded. I won't even begin to try to express my opinion on the fact that the nation which has appointed itself police force for the rest of the world, seems to be unable to control the rampant terrorism, by more or less disturbed individuals who find it all too easy to buy and own a gun, against its own population. That is not my business, though my sympathy and support goes out to those people who try hard to change that.

What made this shooting a bit special, is the motivation for the killing – or, no, that is wrong. What made this killing a bit special is that the killer has told us what motivated him so plainly and in such detail, publicly on the internet.

Girls wouldn't sleep with him. He couldn't get the stuck up blond bitches who owed him their sexual favours. At 22 years old, he was still a virgin. And the stuck up blond bitches he couldn't get, preferred some inferior slob over him, who clearly was the Alpha Male, the most desirable of men. Or something of that sort. You will forgive me, but I prefer not to dignify his rant by looking it up and citing it literally.

He was a madman, they say. He had mental health issues – and for some people, that seems to settle it, or even excuse it somehow. Well, yes, of course he was mad. Anyone who goes out and shoots a bunch of people randomly has a serious mental health problem. There is no such thing as a sane mass murderer.

What is so unsettling and scary, is that the sentiments this "unique mental health case" expressed are not ones you – or rather, I – would hear only from a madman. I have heard similar sentiments expressed by any number of men – most of them presumed to be perfectly sane, respectable people. Quite a few of them professionally successful, universally admired for their talent or their knowledge or, so help me, their wisdom. I could cite a couple who are so well known and well respected that they are the subject of an article on Wikipedia.

Yet when it comes to the blond girls they can't get – and by that I don't necessarily mean sex (though that most definitely happens), but certainly admiration and unquestioning acceptance of these men's superiority in importance, intelligence, knowledge, talent, wit, you have it – these adult, presumed mature men revert to the mindset of a five year old who throws a tantrum because he has been denied a piece of candy.

And it so happens that I am one of those blond bitches they can't get.

Now I am lucky that no one has gone and shot me – at least so far, fingers crossed. But I have been professionally and economically sabotaged by some of these men, sometimes indirectly as a consequence of "losing their favour", and sometimes systematically and deliberately. And perhaps the worst thing about it is, I used to think it was all my own fault – some shortcoming in social skills, or assertiveness, or patience and kindness. Now I know it wasn't that. Now I know it was just my refusal to prostitute myself.

Germaine Greer wrote quite a while ago in The Female Eunuch, that "women have very little idea of how much men hate them". Well, we have a better idea now.

What is also unusual about this particular shooting, is the response it has generated on the internet, and particularly on Twitter. I'm not much of a Twitter person – I have an account but have hardly used it so far – but even I know what a hashtag is, and #YesAllWomen practically exploded soon after the shooting – and it is still pretty active as I write this.

Women from all sorts of places spontaneously started sharing their stories of everyday sexism, in the form of short, concise tweets – from being judged by an implicit double standard, and the perpetual aggravation of sexual harassment and jokes, and the ever present fear of violence, to the biggies – there were victims of gang rape and severe domestic abuse, who suddenly found a voice and a place to share those experiences, which are still often stigmatized with more shame than having perpetrated such a crime.

Yes, all women have a story like that to share. Every single one. And many of us, far more than just one. If I wanted to tweet every crap sexist experience I have ever had in my 47 years of life, I would probably be tweeting non-stop for a year.

But perhaps the most shocking thing about this conversation was, how many men have stated that for them, reading those tweets was a complete eye opener. They had no idea of what constitutes the day to day experience of every woman they know: wives, girlfriends, sisters, daughters, mothers. Well, it is high time then to have that conversation, isn't it.

This is what it looks like when a lot of people suddenly get angry all at the same time: Visualization of the geographical spread of the #YesAllWomen Twitter hashtag

The internet has reacted to #YesAllWomen with a whole spawn of blog posts, many of them on major online media. Here are a couple which I thought read-worthy:

Ernest W. Adams, Jezebel – I am putting this first because this is the conversation we really need to be having

Amanda Hess, Slate – why men don't see sexual harassment

Sasha Weiss, The New Yorker

Ella Ceron, Thought Catalog

Watching the waves at White Rock, Wairarapa Watching the waves at White Rock, Wairarapa Watching the waves at White Rock, Wairarapa Watching the waves at White Rock, Wairarapa Watching the waves at White Rock, Wairarapa Watching the waves at White Rock, Wairarapa Watching the waves at White Rock, Wairarapa Watching the waves at White Rock, Wairarapa

Watching the waves at White Rock, Wairarapa

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Art buyers at the Ctrl ; Alt opening Winter Fox by Astrid Nielsch Tentacle Love by Astrid Nielsch Spring comes to Town by Astrid Nielsch

Ctrl ; Alt digital art show at Matchbox Studios ** prints now for sale

News & Current Projects

Just after sending out last month's newsletter, I got the news that my work had been chosen to be included in the Ctrl ; Alt digital art show at Matchbox Studios – the same gallery on Cuba Street where I participated in two exhibitions last year. I had been keen for a chance to exhibit my digital work – rather than oil paintings, as in the other two shows – so this was welcome news!

I picked a selection of pieces I have completed over the last two or three years – a mix of A 3 regular poster prints, and smaller size (but better quality) giclees. This time, I did sell! Quite a few things: seven of the posters, two giclees, and a couple of my greeting cards, if I have counted right. So that should cover the gallery fee, plus something toward the cost of printing: Meaning I can now dub myself "Emerging Artist" – someone who breaks even, rather than shovelling money down an endless drain. I think that is the official definition. :D

I am pleased. My purse is pleased, too. Moreover, I now have a little stack of prints which I can continue to sell online: I have started listing them on Ebay (click on the image thumbnails above to find the listings) – and some are available in my Etsy store as well.

I have also used the occasion to do some prospecting, and have updated my online portfolio: have a look! And why not share the link with some friends.

opping hares spread 1 by Astrid Nielsch Hopping hares spread 2 by Astrid Nielsch Hopping hares spread 3 by Astrid Nielsch

Hopping hares: sequence of three double page spreads

As promised, I have dug my heels in and made some progress with my children's picture book: not quite as much as I had hoped, but that is the way of things.

I have been working on what will be the central portion of the book – the hares want to drown themselves in the lake, and are hopping through the midsummer night forest – the scene which was my first visual idea when I started thinking about this book. Lots of birch forest! Everyone seems to love that fox-in-the-birch-forest picture I did some years ago, and it's an idea I have been keen to revisit.

Hopping hare by Astrid Nielsch Birches by Astrid Nielsch Hopping hare by Astrid Nielsch Forest floor by Astrid Nielsch

Building a forest with hares: elements

One of the strengths of Adobe Illustrator is its "symbol" function: it is possible to re-use graphic elements very easily, once they have been created – and they can be manipulated and modified afterwards. It is perfect for creating repetitive patterns of things that are "similar but not quite the same": grass, reeds, leaves, forest trees.

Below are some of the symbols I created for this piece: the elements that make up the forest are very simple, as you can see, and they can be combined in patterns and stand up to a lot of repetition.

With the hares, I'll need to put in some more work: they are the main focus of the picture, and so it doesn't do to just copy-paste them. I am not quite happy with that part of the image just yet, but I think I have arrived at a basic idea, which I can work on further. Probably, I will have to simplify things a bit – and there also needs to be space for text! But that will be next month's task.

This sequence will make up three consecutive double page spreads in the finished book – at least, that is the plan so far – so it constitutes a substantial chunk of what will be the final set of illustrations. Worth spending a bit of time and care on.

Bulding a forest by Astrid Nielsch Bulding a forest by Astrid Nielsch Bulding a forest by Astrid Nielsch
Bulding a forest by Astrid Nielsch Bulding a forest by Astrid Nielsch Bulding a forest by Astrid Nielsch
Bulding a forest by Astrid Nielsch Bulding a forest by Astrid Nielsch Bulding a forest by Astrid Nielsch

Building a forest

ARTWORK OF THE MONTH: yet more life drawing studies! I told you I had stacks of them. This month, I've selected two A3 sheets of medium length poses – one male, one female – and one longer pose of a sitting women. As usual, I'll ship the A3 sheet as is, but I take requests to trim it. They are listed on Ebay, and any special requests should be communicated when bidding on them. :) View my Ebay listings here.

Artwork of the Month by Astrid Nielsch Artwork of the Month by Astrid Nielsch Artwork of the Month by Astrid Nielsch

Artwork of the month: Nude pencil studies, now available on Ebay

On Amazing Stories, I've continued my series on Afro-American deities: Oya and Xangó, the Orixas of Fire, Storm and Thunder – who may have inspired characters like Storm in X-Man. And Oxala, Prince of Peace – a father deity who has been syncretized with Jesus Christ, but who also makes me wonder where Tolkien derived the inspiration for his White Wizard from. Have a look, and judge for yourself! Visit my author page, with a list of all my blog posts on Amazing Stories.

My download sales on CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon Mp3, and a bunch of streaming services like Spotify, are ticking by just fine. I was pleased – though a bit surprised – to notice that Es Kommt ein Schiff geladen – the German Christmas carol I recently made available as a download – has had some traction on Spotify. With the fraction–of–penny amounts they pay, it will probably take a good little while until I break even on the listing fee, but it's a start – and who knows, maybe people will download it in droves, come the Christmas season! Well, and if you do get a taste for my vocals, there is also Silver Dagger, the song I stole from Joan Baez' repertory.

If you always wanted to get another Travels in Middle Earth CD for yourself or a friend (or several) but were a bit short on cash, I would like to point you to my fundraising project on behalf of my friend Sarah – more details below. I am asking for donations starting well under the usual sales price of the CD, but the action will only run until the required amount has been raised – so don't hesitate, be quick! And by all means, do let your friends know there is a bargain to be had, and a good deed to be done at the same time.

Asni's garden in May Asni's garden in May Asni's garden in May Asni's garden in May Asni's garden in May Asni's garden in May Asni's garden in May Asni's garden in May Asni's garden in May Asni's garden in May

Asni's garden in May: foodstuff * winter preparations

This month, I have completed the pruning assignment for my horticulture certificate – a handy way to start the process of winter cleanup in my garden! A couple of neighbours have also benefited from my skills, since there were a couple of plants on the assignment list which I do not grow myself. And now I can go and pimp my skills to the neighbourhood for cash! Might be a good time of year to get going with a little sideline of pruning work. I quite enjoy doing it – as long as I don't have to use a motor saw or stand on tall ladders – and it is a gardening task where an artistic eye comes in handy. I got a little carried away on one of my own trees, and am now planning to turn it into a sculpture. Poor thing.

The summer flowering is now well and truly over, and so are the summer vegetables, although I continue to harvest tomatoes – they're too squishy and too sour to eat raw, but they are perfectly acceptable for cooking. I have been harvesting tomatoes continuously since the middle of February ... nice. Plus, I harvested a handful of really small eggplant, just enough for making my favourite Chinese dish! Also coming up are some kamokamo, and a pumpkin or two. And it's time to dig up the horseradish and see how that has turned out!

I've picked up a couple of hazelnuts and another grapevine on a bargain sale: I've been planning to replace the boring shrubbery against my back fence with hazelnuts, so this was an excellent opportunity. I've also dug some new beds for winter vegetables, but it's beginning to get cold and they are slow growing: I hope to have some lettuce and spinach by the end of the month, and am planting turnips, red and silver beet, kale and Brussels sprouts toward harvesting later in the winter. I've sown some more carrots and planted some more leek – soup season is upon us – and I'll have another go at trying to raise my own onions! It can't be that hard, but so far I have failed spectacularly. Wish me luck!

Asni's garden in May Asni's garden in May Asni's garden in May Asni's garden in May Asni's garden in May Asni's garden in May Asni's garden in May Asni's garden in May Asni's garden in May Asni's garden in May Asni's garden in May

Asni's garden in May

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Help a Friend, Get a CD

A friend of mine, Sarah Griffiths, is in dire straits. She is facing eviction, and homelessness, after being unable to cover the rent and utility bills due to unforeseen circumstances, and other people's unreliability The situation is so bad that she has been forced to put out an appeal online, asking people to help her raise the – really not very large – sum of US $ 2.300, which will cover her shortfall.

My own financial circumstances do not allow me to make more than a small contribution to her fund, but I do have several boxes full of CDs, which I have yet to sell. Sarah was one of the people who helped fund the production of my Travels in Middle Earth CD some years ago, and I would like to return the favour: I have set up a donations page, where you can contribute money in return for a copy of the CD.

The minimum donation is US$ 13 / Euro 9.50 – this is substantially cheaper than the CD currently sells, and includes postage. Use the drop down menu to contribute a larger sum – please do! Of this amount, US$ 3/ Euro 2 are postage – I am subsidizing each donation with the balance to the actual shipping cost out of my own pocket – and the rest will go directly into Sarah's Paypal account.

If you prefer, you are also most welcome to contribute directly to her fundraising campaign on GoFundMe.

I met Sarah on an online forum a number of years ago, and know her as a hardworking, kind and disciplined person, modest to a fault, who tends to put other people's interest before her own. I have an idea what it must have cost her to go begging – and I have experienced myself how crushing it is to the spirit when there is no one who feels responsible to lend a helping hand. Or give a helping coin!

A couple of years ago, I was in danger of losing my place to live, because my landlord was selling the house. I remember spending a couple of days lying on my bed, unable to move – I was in shock, and felt I could not deal with another blow, just when my circumstances seemed pick up a bit after going through a very difficult period some years ago. I was lucky – and am eternally grateful – that my family stepped in, and that there was enough money to buy the house on my behalf. Sarah does not have this privilege. She is not in this situation through any of her own fault, and she does not deserve to be turned out on the street.

When I met her, she was struggling with being seriously overweight, and in the time I have known her I have seen her not only get a handle on her weight issues, but also go back to study: She is now studying psychology part-time, besides working in her job with an insurance company. Even though she has a regular income, it does not cover the extra expenses she has had while she was unable to secure a roommate to share the rent, since last September. She now has someone to share her home, and is looking to cover her debts.

Originally, Sarah was training to be a singer, and she has always taken a keen interest in my musical projects – as well as my struggles as a "starving artist". But as it turns out, these days artists seem to starve less than people working in "solid jobs" like insurance – at least, I can't think of a single of my artist or musician friends having been in immediate danger of becoming homeless! Makes one wonder just how low Sarah's pay must be. Yes, all women.

Here is her story in her own words:

"I was originally a vocal music major. I received my Associate of Arts and moved into a Bachelor of Arts program in music education, and then upon switching colleges went with a “basic” vocal music concentration. I never felt I fit in the music program, and was honestly tired of being in school. So, I stopped my education and started working full-time in the insurance industry. That was in 2000."

"Fourteen years later I am still in the industry, and have been a licensed agent for 10 of those years. I still enjoy singing, but I know that it will never be more than a hobby."

"I returned to school part-time in the Fall of 2013. I declared a major in Psychology. My short-term goal is to finish the Bachelor's program (I have approximately 25 credits remaining) and volunteer my time with crisis centers and hotlines. Long-term I am considering a Master's degree and going into counseling. Ultimately I want to help others who feel there is nowhere else to turn."

"Regarding my house, sadly I lost it to foreclosure. I had been out of work, and by the time I found work I could only get part-time at a low wage. It was too little, too late. So, I moved into a rental in December, 2011 after being homeless for roughly one month."

"My mother had moved up from Florida to share the home with me, but she left abruptly last September. I was able to easily handle the rent and utilities for a couple months, and figured I would find a new roommate easily. I did not. I ended up taking a title loan against my vehicle in order to pay a couple months' rent. I finally found a roommate to move in starting in April. Sadly she hasn't been able to keep up her half of the rent and we are now facing possible eviction."

"I live from paycheck to paycheck, and I only get paid two times a month. I've sold virtually everything of any value, and have no family to turn to for help. So, I'm swallowing my pride and asking for help from anyone who sees it in their heart to help."

Please help her out. ** Get a CD ** Donate on GoFundMe

Suburbia, Taupo Suburbia, Taupo Suburbia, Taupo Suburbia, Taupo Suburbia, Taupo Suburbia, Taupo Suburbia, Taupo

Suburbia, Taupo

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Acts of Love: Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy – part 6

*** 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)

** Part 1 ** Part 2 ** Part 3 ** Part 4 ** Part 5

Is there still a place for "true love" in a society that values sexual fulfillment over loyalty and commitment? *Can* there be true love, when violence and systematic injustice against women destroy the foundations of trust and love themselves? And what would such a love look like – if it is to be based not on some form of co-dependency, where one or both partners give up part of their identity, but rather on equality and personal freedom? A love that is based not on an inability to live without the other, but on wanting the best for the other, regardless if it means living together or apart? I think these are the questions the author is investigating with his story of Lisbeth and Mikael.

Western culture, these days, is so focused on the importance of sex in a relationship, that people seem to forget about all the other aspects which make up that complex phenomenon, "love" – at least, if one is to judge from most contemporary fiction written for adults!

Companionship, for instance – simply liking to be around the other person. Surely a better foundation for a potentially life-long partnership, than achieving the perfect orgasm! Or loyalty: the commitment to be there for one's partner "in sickness and in health", and not opt out when the going gets rough, and the great sex is no longer available. Or teamwork: mutually supporting each other to reach the same goal – or even different goals. These days, one usually has to go to "young adult" literature if one wants to find an investigation of these values, which are more associated with friendship than with eroticism.

Afternoon at White Rock, Wairarapa Afternoon at White Rock, Wairarapa Afternoon at White Rock, Wairarapa Afternoon at White Rock, Wairarapa Afternoon at White Rock, Wairarapa Afternoon at White Rock, Wairarapa

Afternoon at White Rock, Wairarapa

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 ends up being a financial reporter instead. In his personal life, he 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.

He is also a man who is very receptive to other people's feelings and needs, but who has some difficulty processing his own emotions. This is a trait which plays out in Mikael's relationship with Lisbeth: to the observant reader, it would appear that Mikael acts very much like a man freshly in love when he and Lisbeth pay their brief visit to London, and then spend time together in Sandhamn while Mikael is working on the Wennerström book. He seems to consider the possibility, or at least the desirability of a long term relationship very early on, even if he expresses it in negative terms: "No, you can't ignore our age difference. it's no sort of basis for a lasting relationship".

But Mikael insists on calling their relationship "friendship" rather than love – just as he calls Erika his "friend", and just as Lisbeth later calls Miriam her friend. To Mikael, the question of sexual fidelity does not seem to enter into it: he sees no reason why he should not be "friends" with more than one woman, and he does not make the connection between his continued trysts with Erika, and Lisbeth's sudden decision to break off all contact with him.

When we meet Mikael again at the beginning of book two, a year has passed, and he is still puzzling over Lisbeth's sudden and unexplained one-sided breakup. He realizes she is no longer in Stockholm, but his attempts to find out anything about her whereabouts have been in vain: she does not answer his emails, she has changed her phone number, and Armansky, whom he has contacted regularly in the hopes that Lisbeth might have been in touch, does not know what happened to her either.

Mikael has seen Lisbeth twice since their Christmas holiday in Sandhamn – the first time, after she fails to return his calls for a few days, he waits on her doorstep for four hours, only to have her hiss at him that she never wants to see him again, and lock her door in his face. The second time, they chance to see each other on the subway system, and Lisbeth stares through him as if he were thin air. Mikael acknowledges to himself that her rejection could not be plainer, but even so, he has made a habit of going by Lisbeth's old flat and ringing her doorbell once a month or so, to see if anything has changed.

The reader is bound to come to the conclusion that these are the actions of someone who is quite seriously smitten, as well as uncommonly persistent and undauntable – but Mikael insists that "he is not in love" with Lisbeth. He only likes her a lot and really misses her, and he feels like an idiot because he thought the feeling was mutual. His latest fruitless visit to her flat has left him feeling bleak and uneasy. He is obviously not paying much attention to the news he's watching on tv, as he is running over the events a year ago in his mind yet again, trying to figure out what made Lisbeth act that way. Hmmm. I wonder what Mikael Blomkvist's definition of "being in love" might be? (Hint: feeling like an idiot is generally a dead giveaway.)

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Afternoon at White Rock, Wairarapa

In the second and third book, ostensibly the relationship between Mikael and Lisbeth goes back to the old traditional pattern in which the female character is the victim, and the male character's job is to save the day. But on closer inspection, things are not quite so simple. For one thing, as I have pointed out earlier, Mikael is really the "female" character in this story, and Lisbeth the "male" – at least as far as their attributes, attitudes and behaviour patterns are concerned. So rather than a straightforward Knight in Shining Armour saves Damsel in Distress plot, we are dealing with a double gender inversion.

The author gives us some pointers that he is indeed referring to this stereotypical plot, and subverting it: Bublanski complains that Armansky and Mikael are talking about Lisbeth as if she were "some kind of princess", and in book three, Mikael refers to the group of people he has assembled to support Lisbeth's case, as "The Knights of the Idiotic Table". But Mikael's valiant knight-errantly deeds have a tendency to be strangely futile – he is more Parzival, or Don Quixote, than Sir Gawain or Lancelot – and Lisbeth is still the one who is pulling the strings most of the time, even while she is confined to her hospital bed.

We get the first hint of this when Mikael chances to witness an attempt to kidnap Lisbeth outside her flat, one night when he is walking home from a party. It is the first time he has seen her since she disappeared. His knight-errant impulse is to run after her attacker and confront him, but he is knocked out with one blow as soon as he catches up. The only practical effect this has is that it makes Lisbeth hesitate for a fraction in her headlong flight, when she hears him cry out. But the fact that Mikael happened to witness this event, later provides an important piece of the puzzle for the police investigators, exonerating Lisbeth and pointing at the possibility that some as yet unknown party has been involved in the three murders.

Mikael, who was the passive victim in the first book, is now driven by events, and by his own feelings, into a more proactive role, while Lisbeth is forced to be more passive: she is confined by the police investigation against her, and later by her injury, first to her flat, then to the hospital, and eventually to prison and to the court room. She still roams cyberspace freely, but Mikael becomes her agent in the "real world": he can go where she cannot, and he has access and influence where she does not.

Throughout most of the second book, they are at cross purposes: Mikael's aim is to find out who really murdered Dag and Mia, so that he can prove Lisbeth's innocence – and initially he believes that Lisbeth knows the answer, but is reluctant to share that knowledge. He believes that the murders are connected to Dag's and Mia's research into the sex trade: when Lisbeth asks him to find "Zala", one of the people whom Dag had identified as a main player in the sex and drugs trade from the former Soviet Union, he assumes that Lisbeth knows he is the murderer. He has no idea that Zala is Lisbeth's father, or of the history of domestic abuse and murderous violence that lies behind it, or that Zala was a high ranking Soviet secret service officer who defected to Sweden, and is therefore a highly sensitive political secret: these are things which he gradually finds out during his own investigations.

Lisbeth's aim is to track down Zala – aka Alexander Zalachenko – for reasons completely unrelated to the murders: she knows or suspects it was he who hired the bikers who attacked Lisbeth outside her old flat, and she cannot feel safe for her life as long as Zala is around. Besides, she has a score to settle with him. She has tried to track down Zalachenko in the past, with no success – he lives under a false name and has no record that would be visible to her computer. When Lisbeth pays a visit to Mikael's laptop, out of sheer curiosity to see what he has been up to after accidentally running across him in a bar, she finds Dag's research materials. She pays Dag and Mia a visit, trying to find out what they know about Zala. It is this visit which, through a series of unfortunate synchronicities, leads directly to the couple's murder – so in a way, Lisbeth *is* responsible for the murders, even though she has not committed them.

When Mikael learns that Lisbeth is the prime suspect in the murders of his friends, he is forced to take a stand. He spends the evening at home worrying and brooding, unable to sleep until he has made it clear in his mind that he really believes in her innocence. He puts on a record of Debbie Harry singing Maria – one of several instances in the novel when real world song lyrics are used to illustrate a character's state of mind. The lyrics of this song express how Mikael sees Lisbeth at this stage: he is obviously very attracted to her, but sees her as cool and indifferent – she's unattainable, and her mystery adds to her sex appeal. Rather than trying to understand what she may be going through, he wallows in his own feelings of yearning and bewilderment. Mikael's attitude toward Lisbeth at this point is much his usual passiveness: he leaves it up to her to make all the decisions about their relationship (or not), and he expects her to have all the answers.

Lisbeth has challenged Mikael, twice, to use his professional skills as a journalist to find out about her "rat's nest" of a life, just as she has used her skills as a hacker to dig out all his secrets. When Mikael finally takes her up on that challenge, he finds himself unravelling his own feelings at the same time.

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Afternoon at White Rock, Wairarapa

It is not until Bublanski questions him about Lisbeth in connection with the murders of Dag and Mia, that Mikael learns that she has been declared mentally incompetent, is under legal guardianship, and has spent time in a mental hospital. These things come as a profound shock to him: he realizes that she is "odd", but nothing in their interactions has indicated that she might suffer from a mental illness – and he knows she is most certainly not "incompetent" in the sense of being mentally underdeveloped, or unable to look after her own affairs. He also knows, because he has witnessed her attack on Martin Vanger that saved his life, that she is capable of violence to the point of killing someone if it were necessary – but he knows equally clearly that she would never attack someone in this way if there was not a strong necessity for it, and he can for the life of him not imagine what would have made her kill someone like Dag or, especially, Mia.

The next revelation that awaits Mikael is that Lisbeth has had a relationship with Miriam Wu for the last three years – a piece of information that first Malin and then Bublanski hand him with a certain amount of glee. Mikael has noticed the new name on Lisbeth's nameplate and wondered if she now lives with someone, but his reflex assumption was that she might have a boyfriend. He takes it in his stride, but it does rattle him a bit – it is the only time in this novel that we see Mikael long for Erika's company, when he lies in bed at night after an altogether taxing day.

The police officers Bublanski and Modig are among the few people who are aware of the nature of Mikael's relationship with Lisbeth – along with his sister Annika, Lisbeth's boss Armansky, and Erika, Christer and Malin at Millennium. Modig in particular – one of the most thoroughly sympathetic characters in the novels – knows that Mikael still harbours tender feelings for Lisbeth, because she has found a letter he wrote her recently. She takes a personal liking to Mikael that has, for once, no sexual overtones, and she later agrees to be his inside source for the police investigation during the preparations for Lisbeth's trial.

Miriam, on the other hand, didn't know that Lisbeth knows the famous journalist Mikael Blomkvist when they spotted him in a bar earlier on – but she may have found out about their relationship during her police interview. She has also been harassed by another journalist, and soon finds her picture on the front page of the tabloid papers, being styled as the leader of a "Lesbian Satanist Cult". So she doesn't react very friendly when Mikael tries to contact her, in the hopes that she may know something that would enable him to find Lisbeth.

Enter Paolo Roberto: a real life boxing champion whom Stieg Larsson has written into the novel, possibly as a nod to the fan fiction culture on the internet, or to genre conventions in comic strips and cartoon shows like The Simpsons, where real life celebrities sometimes make an appearance. Paolo Roberto knows Lisbeth from when she trained with him in a boxing club in Södermalm, and he tells Mikael how as a teenager, she walked into one of his training sessions one day, demanding to learn how to box. It is the first personal glimpse Mikael has into Lisbeth's life before he came to know her, beyond the official record of her problems at school and her troubled teenage years, which have been published in the papers.

Mikael recruits Paolo Roberto to try to get in touch with Miriam Wu, since she won't speak to Mikael himself. Paolo happens to witness how Miriam is kidnapped by a tall, strongly build man – Ronald Niederman, who turns out to be Zalachenko's acting arm and the person who actually shot Dag, Mia and Bjurman. In the best action thriller tradition, Paolo follows the kidnappers and saves Miriam from a burning storage shed, where she has been threatened with a chainsaw, by engaging in a boxing match with Niederman. The sequence is perhaps the clearest example of how Stieg Larsson likes to take the mickey out of narrative conventions in popular literature and film – it is so over the top that it provides some comic relief in a plot that is building up to a climax of considerable suspense and emotional intensity.

Niederman is everything that Lisbeth is alleged to be: he is mentally underdeveloped, he suffers from paranoid delusions, and he is barely functional when there isn't anyone who tells him what to do. He also suffers from congenital analgesia, a genetic condition that makes him unable to feel physical pain. He doesn't feel psychological or moral pain either: he has not the slightest trace of a conscience, or awareness that the series of violent crimes he commits are wrong. He is so deficient that he comes across as pathetic, rather than detestable in the way that Bjurman, Teleborian, Zalanchenko and Martin Vanger are. He, not Lisbeth, is the psychopathic killer who ought to have been taken care of in a mental ward, rather than left to roam society freely.

Mikael's professional identity as a journalist – and a famous one at that – continues to be a hindrance when he tries to contact people close to Lisbeth. They assume that he is after the story, and are reluctant to talk to him. This is particularly true when Mikael tries to gain access to Holger Palmgren, Lisbeth's former guardian. He first has to convince Palmgren's physician, and then Palmgren himself, that he is indeed Lisbeth's friend, and needs the information he is seeking in order to puzzle out Zalachenko's identity, whom he suspects to be the real culprit.

He has already established that Zalachenko is a former Soviet agent who has defected to Sweden in the 1970's and collaborated with the Swedish secret service – this information has been provided by Gunnar Björk, a Secret Police officer who happens to be on Dag's list of prostitutes' clients, and who turns out to have played a crucial part in Lisbeth's past. Now Mikael learns that Zalachenko is also Lisbeth's father, that Lisbeth has grown up witnessing the violent abuse of her mother at regular intervals, and that she has tried to kill her father twice when she was in her early teens: the ostensible reason why she was committed to a children's psychiatric ward. It is at this point that Mikael begins to realize that the violations of Lisbeth's civil rights go well beyond her current problem of being wrongly accused of murder, and subjected to a nationwide smear campaign in the media.

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Afternoon at White Rock, Wairarapa

Lisbeth, meanwhile, has been following the investigation on the news, from the safe vantage point of her new flat in Mosebacke: a secret address which no one else knows about, not even Miriam, who has taken over Lisbeth's old flat. She also continues to check Mikael's computer for information, as well as Armansky's, and that of prosecutor Ekström, the leader of the police investigation. Mikael, who is desperately hoping that she will get in touch and accept his help, puts a quote out in the media which is carefully formulated in a way to get it across to Lisbeth that he does not accuse her, and invites her to hack into his computer. He leaves a document for her to let her know he believes her innocent, and that Millennium is doing their own investigation to track down the real culprit.

Lisbeth has been pushing her feelings about Mikael way down, knowing only that she wants to avoid meeting him at all costs. When she and Miriam run across him in a bar shortly after Lisbeth's return to Sweden, she is careful that he doesn't spot her, but she eagerly watches him until he leaves. She is "annoyed" by his presence, but determines that he has dwindled to a minor unpleasantness in her past, and that it no longer hurts her to see him. Miriam, however, notices that something has upset Lisbeth as soon as Mikael enters the bar, and she remarks on Lisbeth's subsequent failure to listen to anything she says. The reader gets the strong impression that to Lisbeth, as long as Mikael is present there is no one else in the room, and she takes a little while after he has left until she can engage with Miriam again. Not what you would call "having no feelings"! Later, she reflects that she wishes she'd had the courage to walk up to him and say hello (or maybe break his bones, she isn't quite sure which), but when another opportunity offers – Mikael has picked up her bag after Lisbeth has made her hasty escape from the man who tries to kidnap her outside her flat, and he waits a good while for her to return so he can give it back – she hides herself until he gives up and leaves.

Lisbeth reluctantly resumes communication with Mikael via documents she leaves on his computer. Mikael is intensely relieved to re-establish some form of communication, but bewildered and frustrated by the short and cryptic notes she initially limits herself to. The reader knows he has it bad, when his pulse rate accelerates simply from noticing that Lisbeth is in his computer! His notes to her are quite wordy and personal: apart from giving her needed information, he also lets her know that he still wants to have coffee with her sometime, but will help her regardless if she wants to have anything to do with him or not.

Lisbeth doesn't really know how to react to his emotional appeals: she thinks him naive because in her opinion, he is basing his belief in her innocence on emotion, rather than hard facts. Initially she is quite callous in the way she thinks about how she can use and manipulate him, but she is moved by the fact that unlike everyone else, he does not believe ill of her, and that she now has an ally. Gradually she thaws a bit, and her responses become more personal and direct. She tells Mikael explicitly that she did not shoot Dag and Mia: a confirmation he has been hoping to hear from her, to allay the doubts that do assault him as a consequence of the constant media barrage of incriminating "facts" about Lisbeth.

Since Lisbeth has access to Ekström's computer, she knows how the police investigation is progressing in more detail than Mikael does: and it strikes her as odd that, since Ekström is deliberately leaking incriminating details about her past to the media, he has not passed on the most incriminating piece of information – her attempt to kill her father with a home-made Molotov cocktail when she was twelve – which she knows is recorded in a police file, but which she is unable to locate in the archives. Mikael has also been pointed to this incongruence by Malin, who assists him with his research, and who puzzles over a gap in the official documentation about Lisbeth: no one seems to know why she was committed to the psychiatric ward in the first place.

There is a nationwide search warrant out on Lisbeth, so leaving her flat means taking a considerable risk. But she has created an elaborate false identity for herself – complete with passport under another name – when she helped herself to Wennerström's money, and the disguise comes in handy when Lisbeth is eventually forced to go out because she has run out of food. She is also still hunting for information about Zala – and so she goes on some clandestine missions of her own to gather information. On the third of these excursions, she finds the missing police report about her attack on her father in Bjurman's summer cabin. It contains correspondence between the child psychiatrist Peter Teleborian, and the Security Police officer Gunnar Björk, which shows clearly that Lisbeth was committed on a fake diagnosis, and was never mentally ill – a circumstance she herself has been unaware of until this point.

The reason for shutting Lisbeth away in a mental hospital was to make sure she could not reveal the identity of her father, which would have put paid to the whole Swedish security police operation that had been built around him and his knowledge of the inner workings of the Soviet Secret Service. This revelation marks the starting point for the plotline that carries through to Lisbeth's trial at the end of book three. The secret police report will become a crucial piece of evidence, and the starting point for unmasking the conspiracy within the Secret Police, which was responsible for covering up Zalachenko's brutalities at the expense of Lisbeth and her mother.

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Up to this point, Lisbeth has been cool as a cucumber, analyzing her situation rationally and taking whatever actions she considers necessary, calmly wanting things out. But through no fault of her own, she has been isolated, unable to leave her flat, and gradually running out of food, and the murder accusation and the things that have been published about her in the media have left her feeling that the few people she knows will probably not want to have anything to do with her in future. When she learns that Miriam has been brutally attacked and is now in hospital, she goes into emotional meltdown. She feels horribly guilty for dragging Miriam into this – for no other reason than because she knows Lisbeth.

In the middle of this crisis, she finds a message from Mikael, telling her that he has interviewed Björk and spoken with Holger Palmgren, and that he now knows who Zalachenko is and why she ended up in the mental hospital: he has deduced the same information which Lisbeth found in the secret police file, from his talk with Palmgren. He asks her to contact him urgently because "we can solve this" – but Lisbeth has just been pushed over the edge: she feels that "nothing will ever work out", and she can't respond to his reassurance and offer of help any more. This is the one point when in the midst of her emotional upheaval, she also acknowledges that she is still in love with Mikael – she tries to respond to his message, but "there was so much she wanted to say to him", and in the end she only sends him one line: "Thanks for having been my friend" – which Mikael reads, quite accurately, as a suicide note. He guesses correctly that she has located Zalachenko, and set out to deal with him on her own.

This is when higher forces intervene: Mikael has found Lisbeth's set of keys when he picked up her bag after the kidnapping attempt early in the book, and now he notices them again – they have fallen out of the bag when he handed it to the police inspectors. Like Bilbo's ring, the keys are a magic object that wants to be found at the right moment – and they are also a metaphor for the fact that Mikael is the one person who has managed to get through Lisbeth's protective shell, and who knows and understands her in ways that no other person does.

Mikael doesn't know the location of Lisbeth's new flat, but he notices that one of her keys is for a post box, and manages to track down her address by looking at her mail. Reinforcing the metaphor of the keys, Mikael is then also able to guess the password for Lisbeth's security alarm. Lisbeth, who is on her way to Göteborg, is alerted to an intruder in her flat by her remote alarm, but when she realizes it is Mikael, it puts a smile on her face. She doesn't think it matters any longer, but she is pleased to know he has cared enough to track her down.

Mikael's discovery of Lisbeth's flat is a most extraordinary piece of writing. Stieg Larsson is a master of metaphor: throughout the novels he uses modern day commonplace objects, events or circumstances that in no way distract from the realism of his writing, to add layers of symbolic depth to the narrative. Lisbeth's secret flat is a magic realm – faery, or the Castle of the Holy Grail – which only a Chosen One can find: Mikael, who has the key and the password. It is also a metaphor for Lisbeth's feelings and inner life, which she carefully protects from intruders. Mikael's exploration of the space Lisbeth lives in creates a sense of tenderness and connection between them, without Lisbeth even being present.

Mikael particularly admires the marvellous view. Lisbeth has chosen this flat mainly because of it: she had liked the view from Mikael's place, and wanted her new flat to have a view as well. But while Mikael's view consists of a bit of water between the rooftops, Lisbeth's is a panorama of Stockholm's inner city and surroundings. He is also impressed with Lisbeth's very superior espresso machine: a quirky reflection on Mikael's character – his "typically male" gadget fetishism isn't directed at flash cars, but at kitchen equipment.

What he sees affects him deeply: the contrast between the ostentatiousness of the property itself – the second most expensive piece of real estate in Stockholm – and the sparseness of Lisbeth's furniture and possessions. She has lived in such constrained circumstances all her life, that she doesn't even seem to understand the concept of "luxury".

This is the point when Mikael goes from "please contact me, please call me, please open your door", to "he wanted to find her and hold her" – even though he knows that "she would probably bite him if he tried." He is beginning to realize just how deeply Lisbeth has been damaged, and that there will be no instant gratification – gaining her trust is bound to be a slow and painful process, and she may well be too damaged to have any kind of "normal" relationship.

In Lisbeth's flat, Mikael finds not only the secret police report which confirms what he has already deduced – that Lisbeth was admitted to mental hospital not because she was ill, but because she was a dangerous witness. He also finds her video recording of Bjurman's rape – and now it is Mikael's turn to go over the edge.

Meanwhile, Malin has tracked down Zalachanko's address, and there is no doubt in Mikael's mind that he needs to follow Lisbeth to Göteborg and try to find her before the police does – to prevent her from getting shot in the process of being arrested, since he knows that she is bound to violently resist arrest. He doesn't even waste a thought on the fact that where Lisbeth is, Zalachenko and Niederman may also be, and that he runs a graver risk than having her bite him – though he does equip himself with a revolver he finds in her desk, without really reflecting why he feels the need to take it. He only knows that he needs to stand by Lisbeth all the way. He also has an anxious feeling that he may already have left it for too late.

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In a brutal showdown, Lisbeth gets shot by her own father, and buried alive. She then digs herself out of her grave with the aid of the cigarette case which Miriam has given her – another strong metaphor for the value of friendship. With a bullet in her brain, she attacks Zalachenko with an axe and manages to critically wound him – and she scares off Niedermann, who suffers from strange visions at the best of times, and who takes her for a supernatural being: a thing risen from the dead, a zombie or – as the description suggests – a dragon.

When Lisbeth realizes how badly hurt she is, and that she can't survive without help, she finally picks up the phone and calls Mikael – but of course he is already on his way, so she gets his answering machine, and can't think of what to say. Evidently, it does not occur to her that she could call the ambulance! Lisbeth has never received the help she should have had from official institutions and authorities, and she regards them only as a threat.

Meanwhile, Mikael is making his very slow progress to Göteborg – his train is delayed for over an hour, when he arrives all the car hire agencies are closed and he has to book through a hotel, he needs to stop to buy a map, and then he loses his way in the dark. Knight errantry in the 21th century would, of course, have to take into account the traffic jams and other modern day vexations.

When he gets to Gosseberga, he comes across Niederman, who is on his way out and tries to hitch a ride with Mikael. Niederman is strong enough to break a man's neck with his bare hands – and he has no trouble taking care of the two policemen who are later sent to collect him – but Mikael is evidently fired up with such a rage that he manages to single-handedly truss up the psychopathic killer and tie him to a "moose crossing" sign. Unfortunately, even this genuinely impressive knight-errantly feat turns out to be futile, because the police officer who later arrives on the scene is so incompetent that he lets Niederman escape, and one of his own people get killed in the process.

When Mikael finally finds Lisbeth, she is barely conscious – all he can do for her is call the emergency services, and make sure they send a helicopter to take her directly to the hospital in Göteborg. He also patches up her wounds with duct tape to stop the bleeding, and generally does whatever he can to make her more comfortable, and to assist the rescue crew. He undoubtedly does save her life, but not in the way a typical Knight in Shining Armour would, by taking on Lisbeth's enemies and fighting her fights: rather, he does it Florence Nightingale style, by patching up her wounds and making sure she gets the medical treatment she needs.

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Afternoon at White Rock, Wairarapa

The structure of the trilogy rather reminds me of a three part musical piece: The first and third books have multi-layered, suspense oriented plots that mirror each other in many ways. The second book represents a more lyrical middle part with a focus on the main characters' emotions. The suspense comes not so much from solving a mystery – we already know that Lisbeth hasn't committed the murders – but from finding out how she will extricate herself from the situation she has been put in. It has the clearest story arc of the three books: Mikael's sustained attempts to find Lisbeth, which is finally resolved on the very last page.

Most of the emotional development in the relationship between Mikael and Lisbeth happens in the second book. Lisbeth begins to overcome her fear and hurt, and slowly starts to allow Mikael back into her life again – a process that will carry on until the end of the third book. Mikael realizes that it isn't up to Lisbeth to make all the decisions about their relationship: he can decide how he wants to relate to her, and he can show her his friendship, support and love regardless if she accepts it or not. He cannot expect or demand that she "rewards" him by resuming their relationship, but he can work on slowly gaining her trust.

In the beginning, Mikael is very focused on his own feelings of disappointment, bewilderment and hurt. He rails at Lisbeth for being a "damned vexatious person", and for not acting in the ways he thinks would be only reasonable: getting in touch, explaining things, giving him answers. But the more he learns about what Lisbeth's experience has been, the less his own feelings seem to matter: they are replaced by empathy with Lisbeth's pain, and by rage at the people who have mistreated her to the point where it seems only natural that she mistrusts everyone, and especially any manifestation of authority. By the time he finds her in Gosseberga, he takes himself and his own feelings completely out of the equation, and it is only Lisbeth's wellbeing that matters.

*** To be continued

Arohanui, from Asni

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Afternoon at White Rock, Wairarapa