Supposed Online Education Junkie

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

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

In this newsletter:
*** The Exciting World of MOOC
*** News and Current Projects
*** Cool Things Friends Do: Siobhán Armstrong
*** Acts of Love: Stieg Larsson's "Millennium" Trilogy (part 7)

The Exciting World of MOOC

This month, I jumped head first into the exciting world of MOOC – Massive Open Online Courses. These are seminars offered by universities (and sometimes other higher education providers) via the internet, free of charge and open to anyone with an internet connection – and knowledge of the course language.

Most courses are offered in English, and the majority are offered by US American universities, reflecting the cultural dominance of the US on the internet – after all, the net started out as a network between three US Universities, so we can hardly blame them! But universities worldwide participate in the movement, and there are courses in a range of languages on offer. They are "massive", because they can attract participants in the range of tens of thousands of people taking the course at the same time. Some even more than that: according to Wikipedia, the largest MOOC to date had about 300 000 participants. That's more than your average university auditorium can hold, so much is certain!

The course I signed up for early this month is Understanding Media by Understanding Google, offered by the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University Chicago, through Coursera – one of several online providers who aggregate MOOCs from a wide range of universities in and outside the US, and provide the online platform and software support. The course is taught by Prof. Owen R. Youngman, who teaches Digital Media Strategy at Medill – after a 37 year hands on career as a journalist at the Chicago Tribune, where he was an early adopter of digital technology, and initiated a number of the newspaper's online initiatives. And he plays the trombone. So he must be a good guy. In fact, he strikes me as one of those old-fashioned journalists who regard their job as a moral mission. Protecting the fundaments of democracy, and all that.

Which is perhaps why he has chosen this particular topic for a MOOC: it has certainly drawn my attention to the fact that Google, in its all-pervasiveness in filtering our access to information on the internet, is in a position of rather totalitarian power – and it is far from neutral. Since it took off in the late 1990's, Google has grown from being simply the most efficient search engine on the net (which is why it is now the first point of call for the majority of people who use the internet, and a new word in the dictionary) – to a technical and commercial imperium which has the means to control a scary amount of the world's knowledge and information.

Did you know that Google owns Youtube? I didn't, before I took this course, I must admit. I have, however, been following some of the discussion about the Google Books project: since my circle of acquaintances includes a number of people who write, illustrate, and/or publish books, the concern was mainly about copyright issues, and the questionable orphan works bill.

But the Google Books project does not only erode current copyright law: far more scary, to my mind, is the fact that it takes away control of the accumulated record of the world's knowledge from institutions like libraries and universities – who have a public mandate and are under public scrutiny, and who train and employ people skilled in evaluating the trustworthiness of information, and putting it in the appropriate context – and transfers that control to a privately owned, profit oriented company run by a handful of youthful software engineer types who got so successful so quick that they never had a chance to grow up – or to think through the wider implications of some of the wonderful technological solutions with which they propose to benefit the planet. And that, I must admit, I'm finding pretty flippin' scary.

There's nothing worse than people who want to do good (or at least "make money without doing evil", which is an actual item on Google's mission statement) – and who think that they know what "good" or "evil" is. Generally, the people they want to do good to aren't asked their opinion, either. Remember Stalin, trying to shove Paradise on Earth down people's throats at point of gun? I'm sure he was convinced he was a good guy, too. Or the Spanish missionaries whose mission was to save the souls of heathens? They genuinely thought it was better for people to burn at the stake than to go to hell, you know. So far, Google has only blatantly disregarded current copyright law by starting to scan in large amounts of library books without waiting for permission. Seems harmless? Well, comparatively, yes maybe – but I don't like the attitude.

The MOOC aims to investigate the relationship between Google and the internet on one side, and the traditional news and information media on the other side – but it is throwing up a whole lot of philosophical and political questions about how we deal with information, in the process. It is a topic I find both useful and fascinating – after all, I operate on the internet, and so it pays to understand what is going on there. It's certainly worth investing some of the time I might otherwise spend procrastinating on Facebook! The course is now in week five out of six, and it's been giving me quite a lot to chew on. I may have to write more on the topic sometime, here on this newsletter, or perhaps elsewhere.

Winter impressions at Castlepoint, Wairarapa Winter impressions at Castlepoint, Wairarapa Winter impressions at Castlepoint, Wairarapa Winter impressions at Castlepoint, Wairarapa Winter impressions at Castlepoint, Wairarapa Winter impressions at Castlepoint, Wairarapa

Winter impressions at Castlepoint, Wairarapa

The idea of Distance Learning is, of course, nothing new – and the internet is the perfect medium for it. Nor is this the first time I am doing some structured learning online: The Science Fiction and Fantasy Art certificate I did through London Art College was a great way to catch up with some formal art education without incurring the psychological trauma of actually attending Art School. ;) Nor am I alone: My friend Sunila just completed the Graphic Design Art diploma (my fault, she says), and Marily, whom I featured on this newsletter recently, just started the Children's Book Illustration diploma, after completing the Drawing and Painting diploma a couple of years ago. I'm thinking of taking that last course myself, maybe, once I am done with my Horticulture Certificate!

Speaking of which, this month I handed in the heftiest of my gardening assignments, the unit on revegetation. But I was a little too optimistic in my last newsletter when I stated I only had a couple more horticulture assignments to do: my tutor just dropped another three workbooks on my doorstep the other day! Well, the course was *supposed* to take a year and a half, and I do have until the end of the year to complete it. Besides, I do want to learn about gardening – getting another piece of paper to frame and put on my wall is of secondary importance. I already have a great big collection of those!

But London Art College and the Open Polytechnic are institutions which specialize in distance learning – and the subjects I have taken were both full courses of study lasting over a year. What I find exciting about MOOCs, is that they are provided by some of the top universities in the world, and are often based on seminars also offered to on-campus students – and they typically last only a few weeks. Most seminars have no particular entrance requirements, and it is possible to sample courses from a whole range of disciplines – so the student can put together their own menu of topics and issues that interest them, rather than being restrained by the formal requirements of a degree course in any particular discipline.

It's a great way to keep up with what is going on in the world of learning, and to plug into an intellectual discussion that literally reaches across the whole planet. All MOOCs have discussion forums, where the participants can meet and exchange ideas. I have participated in another MOOC previously, where this was not such a great experience because I managed to attract a pet troll in no time, and decided I didn't have time to waste with that nonsense: it discouraged me from completing the course. This time, the forum has been conspicuously troll-free – probably because the course administrators and Prof. Youngman himself participate quite regularly – and it has been interesting to see the range of participants, and their different takes on the topic.

A lot of the MOOCs being offered have to do with recent developments – technological, social, economical or cultural – and with burning global issues like sustainability, environmental protection, or, well, the impact of the internet and digital technology. I've already signed up for my next MOOC: Online Games: Literature, New Media and Narrative, which will look at games derived from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. That should be perfectly up my alley! It's a little bit addictive.

Wairio Wetlands, Wairarapa Wairio Wetlands, Wairarapa Wairio Wetlands, Wairarapa Wairio Wetlands, Wairarapa Wairio Wetlands, Wairarapa Wairio Wetlands, Wairarapa

Wairio Wetlands, Wairarapa

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Partying hares

Children's book project: Partying hares

News & Current Projects

I've been working away on my upcoming children's book this month. The illustration above will be the final spread in the book: the hares have not drowned themselves in the lake after all, but are instead having a party lasting until well after sunrise! It's been fun playing with the colours, and creating a warm early morning forest atmosphere. I think it turned out ok!

I have also been working on a few more individual hares, which will be needed for the first portion of the book: below are Aunty Swiftfoot, and her Youngest.

Besides, I have begun to acquaint myself with Adobe InDesign – a professional print layout program, and the one piece of the Adobe Creative Suite which I have not been working with so far. I've created an outline of the whole book, distributing the text over the pages and importing the illustrations I have already drafted – so now I am beginning to have an idea what it will look like in the end!

But, there still is quite a bit of work to do. Next week, I'll be working on getting my submission ready for the Key Colours Illustrator's Award – at least, I hope I can wrangle it to submit things in time! Fortunately they don't require a fully finished book ... wish me luck!

After that, it will be back to coding for a bit. Margaret Hiley has been passing on the word about my wonderful web design services to the translator community, it seems: a couple of weeks ago I received an enquiry to build a website for another translation business, and have just fired off the contract. Which means I will be in paid work next month – a change which I really don't mind! Hopefully, it will also put me in the right frame of mind to tackle some of the work I need to do on my own website afterwards. I can't complain that I ever suffer from a shortage of things to do. :)

Illustrations: horticultural tools

Children's book project: Two hares

I was quite excited to receive a music DVD in the mail this month, which has been in the works for a good long time: The First Ring is a collection of Tolkien themed music from a variety of songwriters, instrumentalists and bands, and I'm quite honoured to have a track included in this collection: in fact, I created Dwarven Dub specifically for this project.

Unfortunately it is not quite clear to me if this DVD is commercially available, or how to order it – it seems to be more of a project "from fans for fans". But you can always download Dwarven Dub from iTunes, if you haven't already (hint hint, wink wink). It's a track I'm proud of, and it wouldn't exist if I hadn't been asked to contribute something to this collection.

And while you're at it, why not check out my other tracks on CD Baby, iTunes or Amazon Mp3? You can also find my music on a variety of streaming services, including, but not limited to, Spotify.

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

ARTWORK OF THE MONTH: This month, I've selected a a handful of female short poses: one A3 sheet with two poses, and one A4 drawing containing just one pose. There is also a somewhat more detailed male pose, of a guy with a prominent tattoo. View my Ebay listings here.

On Amazing Stories, I've been rounding off my series about Afro-American Orixás: I've looked at portrayals of the lovely Oxum, the very feminine orixá of beauty, gentleness, diplomacy, wealth, fertility, sexuality, and witchcraft. In my second blog this month, I've introduced my readers to some of the other orixás, which I had not previously covered: Warriors, hunters, healers, and death. Time to wrap up this mini-series, and move on to something else! Visit my author page, with a list of all my blog posts on Amazing Stories.

Asni's garden in June: baby vegetables and other edibles Asni's garden in June: baby vegetables and other edibles Asni's garden in June: baby vegetables and other edibles Asni's garden in June: baby vegetables and other edibles Asni's garden in June: baby vegetables and other edibles Asni's garden in June: baby vegetables and other edibles Asni's garden in June: baby vegetables and other edibles Asni's garden in June: baby vegetables and other edibles Asni's garden in June: baby vegetables and other edibles

Asni's garden in June: baby vegetables and other edibles

It's the middle of winter, so my vegetable production has been a bit low this month. The lettuces and spinachs will take a little more time to grow up into edible sizes! Fortunately, I still have some of the later summer bounty in my freezer.

The winter has been very mild so far – we've hardly had any frost at all, not even at night – and so my daffodils are way early this year! The first ones opened the day after midwinter. There are other spots of colour here and there: some seasonal, some less so. I hope they won't get caught out in some cold spell in the next two months!

Asni's garden in June: spots of colour Asni's garden in June: spots of colour Asni's garden in June: spots of colour Asni's garden in June: spots of colour Asni's garden in June: spots of colour Asni's garden in June: spots of colour Asni's garden in June: spots of colour Asni's garden in June: spots of colour Asni's garden in June: spots of colour Asni's garden in June: spots of colour Asni's garden in June: spots of colour Asni's garden in June: spots of colour

Asni's garden in June: spots of colour

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Cool Things Friends Do: Siobhán Armstrong

Siobhán and I go back a good long while: I first met her when she was teaching a class at the Early Music Academy in Bremen, where I was studying early harps at the time. I forgot what the class was about – traditional Irish music? Improvisation? Something along those lines. I do remember that she taught us the tune The Butterfly, which I ended up recording on my Travels in Middle Earth album – there's even a music video of it.

Siobhán is one of a small number of harpists worldwide who play harps from earlier centuries. She has a large collection of copies of instruments from the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the baroque. Currently, she is working on a major recording project documenting the music of Ireland between 1500 and 1800. The first volume of the collecting, covering the 16th century, is currently being produced – you can pre-order a copy here, and help raise funds for the production and distribution of this CD! I can't think of a better person to take charge of such a project – it's bound to be some really amazing performances, and will probably be a must-have for any serious lover of Irish traditional music.

But, let her tell it in her own words:

"I was born in Dublin, I live in Ireland, and I work as a freelance performer and teacher, mainly in Europe. I have pretty eclectic interests and play and record 17th century opera and chamber music with the main baroque directors in Europe, but have also had the fun of performing as a soloist on Hollywood film soundtracks and I've been known to gig at some of the the world's biggest traditional music festivals."

"One of my passions is encouraging the revival of the early Irish harp. I founded and chair The Historical Harp Society of Ireland and I direct Scoil na gCláirseach—Summer School of Early Irish Harp, which takes place each August in Ireland. I play a replica of the medieval Trinity College or Brian Boru harp—the national emblem of Ireland—strung in brass and 18-carat gold. My solo recording on this—Cláirseach na hÉireann: The Harp of Ireland—was released in 2004."

"I started playing modern neo-Irish or 'Celtic' harp, strung in gut, when I was 8 years old and, like many children I've taught over the years, have no idea why I wanted to learn it; it just somehow caught my eye. I developed a great love of Renaissance and baroque music as a teenager and was thrilled when I finally came across the kind of harps that were appropriate for it, when I was about 19. I started studying and playing Italian and Spanish baroque multi-row chromatic harps in my early twenties, after I moved to Germany, and added early Irish harp a few years later."

"I just love having a foot in several worlds, working with traditional Irish or Scottish musicians one day and playing 17th century opera the next; it makes for a really fun and varied work life. I feel really fortunate to have my own ethnic music with which I grew up and to be involved in that in a parallel stream to my European art music. Of course, more often than not, I ensure that they overlap in the same project!"

"Playing on the soundtrack of MGM's Merchant of Venice was great fun: historical musicians don't often get to play newly composed music listening to click tracks on headphones while looking at Al Pacino footage on screen! And the Venetian sets were sumptuous so it was a feast for my eyes.""

"I performed an electro-acoustic piece involving tape loops last year, composed for me by a young Irish composer; that was a new departure and one I enjoyed very much. And last weekend I was involved in a John Cage 'MusicCircus' in a 19th century Irish gaol, with contemporary musicians from Germany, Italy and Ireland. That was fascinating to me."

"I'm currently working on the first CD in my new recording project, MUSIC of IRELAND. The whole series will take several years to complete and will, for the very first time, showcase vocal and instrumental music heard in early modern Ireland between the years 1500 and 1800. It brings together the passion and expertise of some of the very best historical and traditional Irish musicians, with some of the finest international early music performers."

"The first CD is called The Kingdom of Ireland 1500-1600 and is, in fact, the debut recording of my group, The Irish Consort, so I'm joined on the recording by twelve of Ireland and Europe's finest historical and traditional singers and performers on lute, viols and recorders."

"Our aim is—for the very first time—to recreate the sound world of 16th century Ireland and to present reconstructions of some of the oldest surviving Irish music together with repertoire which would have been familiar to the Tudor English colonists living in the plantations and inside the Pale around Dublin."

"Many of the tracks feature the sound of my early Irish harp. This kind of harp was the noble high art instrument of the Gaelic world for almost one thousand years before it died out in the early 19th century, now replaced by the modern 'Celtic' nylon-strung harp. I'm really excited by the whole series and this first CD."

You can see footage of the recording sessions, and find more information, on the Fundit page for this project – where you can also pre-order a copy of the CD. Or several. Or obtain a number of other goodies, up to and including a personal guided tour of Ireland! Travel costs not included. But still – how cool is that?

Siobhán is also blogging regularly about the progress of this project. More information about her work, and her other CD recordings, can be found on her brand spanking new website – she tells me her music clips page is currently not functional, but should be up again soon. Meanwhile, you can listen to some of her music on Youtube, or on Spotify.

Wave and sand patterns, Castlepoint Wave and sand patterns, Castlepoint Wave and sand patterns, Castlepoint

Wave and sand patterns, Castlepoint

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Acts of Love: Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy – part 7

*** 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 ** Part 6

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 way 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.

The third book focuses less on the personal relationship between Mikael and Lisbeth. They both know by now how they feel about each other: Lisbeth has known that she is in love with Mikael since the end of book one, and although it is not spelled out, surely Mikael's moment of epiphany arrives when he finds her half dead in Gosseberga. All that remains for them to decide is how they want to act on those feelings.

An interesting detail is that when Mikael finds Lisbeth in Gosseberga, he "sinks to his knees" by her side. It is a physical expression of shock and distress – at first he thinks she is dead – but it is also a gesture which is traditionally associated with proposing marriage. I am convinced that the author makes this allusion deliberately – just like he has alluded to traditional patterns of courtship throughout the second book – to mark the point when Mikael makes that kind of commitment. Lisbeth for her part has been fighting tooth and nail to hang on to her consciousness, and her gun, so that she can defend herself – but when she recognizes Mikael, she knows that she can finally let go. At this point, she trusts him completely.

Midwinter in the Wairarapa Midwinter in the Wairarapa Midwinter in the Wairarapa Midwinter in the Wairarapa Midwinter in the Wairarapa Midwinter in the Wairarapa

Midwinter in the Wairarapa

Mikael has spent an entire novel trying to find Lisbeth, but as soon as he does, he has to let her go again. In an instance of aggravated cruelty against fictional characters, the author doesn't even allow him to accompany her to hospital. Mikael is by that time suffering from serious sleep deprivation, and he is obviously very upset about Lisbeth's condition, and so he loses his cool with the police officer who wants to arrest Lisbeth on the spot, disrupting the work of the rescue crew – and finds himself put in handcuffs. Fortunately, police officer Modig and her colleague Holmberg arrive from Stockholm some time later, and confirm that Lisbeth is no longer a murder suspect.

By then, Lisbeth is already in surgery – it is her good fortune that she arrives on the shift of Doctor Anders Jonasson, who goes to extra lengths to ensure that the emergency brain surgery he is confronted with in the middle of the night does not leave his patient a vegetable: he calls up a colleague and friend who is a specialist brain surgeon, and asks if he can come in and assist.

Instead of holding Lisbeth's hand, Mikael sets himself to help her in more practical ways. Even when he first finds her, although he is clearly overcome by strong emotions, he does not indulge himself with any theatrical demonstrations of affection or grief. He picks up the phone and calls the ambulance, he patches up Lisbeth's wounds, and he makes sure the rescue helicopter has a safe place to land. He also takes and hides Lisbeth' s handheld computer, her false passport, and her set of keys, so that the police won't find them. He gives Erika a call to let her know what has transpired, but he is not in a state to discuss what they should do next.

It is a journalist's response to catastrophe: he kicks into action and does what needs to be done. To the reader who is used to have a character's emotions shown or spelled out in great detail, Mikael's reaction might seem restrained and impersonal: but surely it is a better way to show love, than to launch into an opera aria – which would certainly do nothing to help Lisbeth survive! He does wash her face, the one action which is perhaps not strictly practical.

Despite his exhaustion, Mikael sits through two long interviews with the police, giving them all the information he has unearthed, except for those things which he has earmarked as "Lisbeth's secrets": her skills as a hacker, the location of her flat, and his knowledge of Bjurman's rape – although he finds that the police have already figured out that some sort of sexual assault must have taken place, after finding Lisbeth's tattoo on Bjurman's stomach.

When he finally finds himself alone in a hotel room, after catching up with some much needed sleep, he immediately begins to work on what will become his version of "The Salander Story": Mikael has decided that the best way to help Lisbeth, and counter the image the media have been painting of her as a mentally disturbed and violent young woman with a scandalous sex life, is to publish the results of his research into Lisbeth's past, and uncover the real story of the murders of his two friends. In the best Romantic novel tradition, the author has Mikael wake up "for no particular reason" at around the same time when Lisbeth recovers consciousness in the hospital – another subtle detail which emphasizes the almost mystical connectedness the author creates between his two main characters.

Midwinter in the Wairarapa Midwinter in the Wairarapa Midwinter in the Wairarapa Midwinter in the Wairarapa Midwinter in the Wairarapa Midwinter in the Wairarapa

Midwinter in the Wairarapa

If the second book was the story of a courtship – 21th century style – then the third book is about the beginnings of a partnership within a network of social relations: it is no longer only about two people and their private feelings, but about the coming together of two families – or, in our modern day and age, more likely two different circles of friends. Again, the author offers a more realistic alternative to the stereotypical "high romantic" love story plot (ever since Lord Byron and Wuthering Heights), which tends to idealize relationships where the lovers are oblivious to everything and everyone else in their single-minded fixation on each other – a state of mind which is sold to the reader as the quintessential sign of "true love". Another literary trope which is not really helpful in real life, where other people and other obligations always need to be accommodated.

Mikael is urgently called back to Stockholm, where the news awaits him that Erika has taken on a new job at a major daily newspaper, and is leaving Millennium. This temporarily snaps him out of his single-minded focus on Lisbeth's affairs: he spends the night with Erika, but – a detail which is stated explicitly in the Swedish original, and omitted from the English translation, like so many other small details that shed light on the main characters' feelings and relationships – instead of indulging themselves with flamboyant sex as they usually do, they just lie in bed and talk, making plans for the future of the magazine.

Mikael trusts Erika enough to give her all the details of his research into the Zalachenko story, even though she is about to wander off to another publication – he knows that she will not "steal the story". He does not, however, trust her enough to be candid with her about his feelings: his first action when she has left, is to call Sahlgrenska hospital to find out how Lisbeth is doing, and if he can visit her. He does not do this while Erika is around, and he continues to be remarkably reluctant to discuss Lisbeth with Erika.

The sexual spark is definitely going out of their relationship by book three – but what remains is their friendship and fundamental loyalty to each other. Erika is far more supportive of Mikael's goals in book three than she is in book one – partly, perhaps, because she has a bad conscience for deserting Millennium in the middle of a major crisis. And Mikael is beginning to set healthy boundaries. Where in book one, Erika would let herself into Mikael's flat with her own key, and walk into his bedroom without knocking, now their interactions take place on neutral territory: in a restaurant, in a hotel, or at the Millennium offices.

Mikael no longer feels compelled to tell Erika absolutely everything – a process that started at the end of book one, when he was not prepared to tell her the details of his final confrontation with Martin Vanger in Hedeby. He now keeps his own "secrets" – and one of them is his real relationship with Lisbeth. Erika persistently refers to his involvement in the case as "working on a story", and she apparently buys Monica Figuerola as a "serious" love interest of Mikael's – I have already explained in a previous installment that my impression is that Mikael deliberately uses Figuerola as a smoke screen.

When Erika eventually returns to Millennium, after failing to assert herself against the Old Boy's Club in her new workplace, the team welcomes her back with open arms. Both Erika and Mikael are intensely relieved to return to the status quo of their very successful work relationship. But their private relationship is now on a different footing: the evening after Lisbeth wins her trial, Mikael makes it clear to Erika that he doesn't want to continue to spend his nights with her (again, this comes across more clearly in the Swedish original than in the English translation). And if he lets Erika believe that it is Figuerola he is "serious about", this only goes to show that the trust they used to have in each other no longer extends to Mikael's private affairs: he is now prepared to lie to Erika, or at least let her believe a lie. The attentive reader can have no doubt who it is that Mikael really cares about.

Mikael enlists his sister Annika, who is a lawyer specializing in womens' rights, to defend Lisbeth in her upcoming trial: although she has been cleared of the three murders, Lisbeth is now accused of attempted murder of her father, and a series of other more or less grave crimes, all of which are actions she took as a direct result of being wrongly accused of the original three murders. Mikael realizes from the start that whoever was responsible for committing Lisbeth to the mental hospital when she was twelve, will have to make sure that she is committed again. Annika is at first reluctant to take on the defense, but agrees for her brother's sake. Throughout the third book, she will be Lisbeth's main point of contact – along with Dr Anders Jonasson of Sahlgrenska hospital – and the two women eventually develop a friendship in their own right.

Next, Mikael sets up a support group for Lisbeth, which he jokingly calls "The Knights of the Idiotic Table": it includes Armansky, Annika, Palmgren, and Malin, who has been assisting Mikael in his research all along, and is now also taking over from Erika as editor in chief at Millennium. Palmgren, who is also a lawyer, supports Annika in building a defense for Lisbeth, and is present at the trial despite still struggling with the after-effects of his stroke two years earlier. Armansky had already delegated a small team to do their own line of investigation into the Salander case, and their professional expertise in surveillance comes in handy in the merry-go-round of espionage and counterespionage which ensues.

Although Mikael continues to downplay his relationship with Lisbeth in front of others, he assumes the role of steady partner in a number of ways: the most obvious being that he moves into Lisbeth's flat, when he realizes that his own is under surveillance, and has been bugged. Together with Armansky, Mikael takes financial responsibility for her legal costs (even though Lisbeth insists that she can pay for them herself), and when he tries to convince Anders Jonasson to smuggle Lisbeth's handheld computer into her hospital room, he makes it clear that he is looking after her interests in this way, in order to impress on the physician that his relationship with Lisbeth is close, and that he is not after details for a story. In the second book, when Mikael needed a car he borrowed Erika's BMW. Now he is borrowing Lisbeth's Honda.

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After Mikael has managed to smuggle Lisbeth's handheld into the hospital, they can finally communicate again. Lisbeth once again is able to use her computer skills to find information which Mikael can use – although they have to keep this secret from Annika, because it would compromise her professional integrity as a lawyer. Lisbeth also begins writing her own version of her story, her "autobiography" – rather than leaving it up to Mikael to speak for her.

Lisbeth hires Plague to do some of the research – advising him to contact Mikael directly with any results – and their hacker friend Trinity, who specializes in tapping telephones, travels from London in order to support them. The unquestioning support Lisbeth receives from her online hacker friends and fellow citizens of "Hacker Republic", stands in stark contrast to the utter absence of support from the Swedish Welfare State which characterized Lisbeth's childhood – and it also contrasts sharply with how various political figures who appear in the course of the narrative (up to and including Sweden's Prime Minister) are far more concerned with safeguarding their reputations and political careers, than with seeing to it that the injustices Lisbeth has suffered at the hands of public officials are redressed.

When Mikael and his team begin to realize that they are up against a proper conspiracy, which has been operating from within Säpo (the Swedish security police) for several decades, Armansky privately alerts his old time friend Edklinth, the chief of Constitutional Protection at Säpo. Edklinth instructs his assistant Monica Figuerola to find out if any of Blomkvist's allegations can be verified, and she spends a couple of weeks laboriously confirming the information Mikael has already dug up. When it becomes apparent that the allegations are true, and that they must act on this information, they recruit Mikael as an "external advisor".

Mikael is extremely mistrustful of Säpo – after all, it was Säpo officials who have been protecting Zalachenko, and collaborating with child psychiatrist Peter Teleborian to commit Lisbeth to the psychiatric ward. Edklinth and Figuerola are equally mistrustful of having a journalist on their team, who might compromise the confidentiality of their operation. It is an uneasy collaboration, which goes against the grain of the professional ethos of both parties, but Mikael is beginning to realize that he cannot possibly hope to solve this case on his own, let alone in time for Lisbeth's trial. Besides, as a journalist he only has the power to expose information. Constitutional Protection, on the other hand, has a legal mandate to act and arrest any of the perpetrators who can be identified – even those operating from within their own organization.

Identifying those perpetrators is, of course, precisely the problem: the breakthrough comes when Lisbeth, who is still pulling the strings from her hospital bed, alerts Mikael to a secret meeting between Teleborian and his contact from the illegal faction within Säpo, the "Section". In a grand concerted action which involves almost all of the book's cast of characters, it is established where the headquarters of the conspiracy are located, and that Teleborian has had a secret meeting with Lisbeth's prosecutor directly after his meeting with a member of the Section – which indicates that the Section, via Teleborian, is seeking to influence her trial.

Meanwhile, police investigators Bublanski, Modig and Holmgren have been assigned the task to capture Niederman, and are no longer officially involved in the Salander case, which has instead been delegated to Hans Faste, the openly misogynic officer who came up with the theory that Lisbeth is involved in a "lesbian satanist gang". Bublanski and his team feel increasingly uneasy about the strange goings-on they observe in connection with the preparations for Lisbeth's trial. Each of them independently takes the initiative to do something about it on their own accord, risking their jobs in the process: Modig provides Mikael with inside information from the police investigation, Bublanski collaborates with Monica Figuerola from Constitutional Protection, and Holmgren interviews former Prime Minister Fälldin, who happens to be a family friend and who was in charge when Zalachenko arrived in Sweden. Each of them contributes some of the pieces of the puzzle which eventually lead to identifying the people who have been responsible for the ongoing violations of Lisbeth's civil rights.

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Mikael is convinced that Lisbeth's trial will be decided outside the courtroom, by the media. He is spending sleepless nights working on his book about Lisbeth, holed up in her flat. While she is still in hospital, Mikael and Lisbeth "have long online conversations", but the reader is not privy to those conversations, apart from a few short samples in which they discuss their strategy for Lisbeth's trial, and exchange notes on the progress of their respective writing. They seem to have re-established some of their old familiarity, but do not discuss personal matters – at least, not that the reader is aware of.

The most cryptic of those conversations is their last chat before Lisbeth is taken to prison: Mikael has by that time begun an affair with Monica Figuerola from Constitutional Protection, which he freely admits to Lisbeth. The way he phrases it, "having sex with a security agent" seems to serve much the same purpose as "chasing Jonas" : namely, nailing the Section. Lisbeth doesn't even remark on it: she is far more interested to know if Mikael has managed to catch Teleborian's meeting with said Jonas, which she had alerted him to. In fact, she has already deduced that Mikael is "probably mucking around with some bimbo with big boobs", because he has not been online at his usual time for the last couple of days. Mikael, however, is anxious to tell her that "we'll do what we have to do" – which could refer to his relationship with Figuerola – and Lisbeth replies "I know. You are predictable". She then excuses herself because she has more work to do – she is at this point chasing Erika's stalker – and they sign off with an understated good-bye.

Once Mikael starts cooperating with Constitutional Protection, Monica Figuerola drags him into her bed more or less forcibly. Keeping her sexually satisfied – and off the trail of those aspects of Lisbeth's past and present activities which would get her into even more trouble with the law – proves no small task. It is debatable whether Mikael enters into this affair because he is genuinely attracted to Figuerola and welcomes the distraction from his troubles which she offers, or if his motivation is mainly to elicit information and disarm the threat she poses: Personally, the more times I read the books the more I tend to the second interpretation.

When Mikael and Figuerola first meet in the staircase outside Mikael's flat, the author emphasizes not her attractiveness, but the fact that Mikael perceives her as a possible physical threat: she is taller and more muscular than he is, and she is towering two steps above him. The ensuing conversation reinforces this: Figuerola is asking Mikael to come along to a "friendly" meeting with her superiors at Säpo, but lets him know that she won't hesitate to handcuff him if he does not come willingly. When she suggests, a couple of days later, that he accompany her home to get undressed, she uses the same phrasing: jokingly, perhaps, but it is only half a joke.

Every one of their interactions shows them chafing each other in some way. Figuerola relentlessly demands Mikael's full attention, bosses him around, criticizes his smoking, his lack of exercise, and his sleep rhythm, and makes it clear that he gets no say in how her department handles the investigation, even though Mikael has contributed far more valuable information in much shorter a time, than Figuerola and her team have managed to dig up. Mikael puts on a smiling face, but he can't keep the sarcasm out of his responses, and he makes no particular attempt to disguise the fact that he finds her behaviour unprofessional. One certainly does not get the impression that they enjoy each other's company very much. If "friendship is based on two things: respect, and trust", then it would appear that in their relationship, there is neither.

The relationship mirrors Mikael's affair with Cecilia Vanger in the first book: both women aggressively seduce Mikael, both expect him to stick to whatever rules they put in place, and both eventually fancy themselves in love with him – which seems to have more to do with having internalized society's expectations that a purely sexual relationship with no strings attached is "wrong", than with how they actually feel. Both women also have an agenda: Cecilia was trying to find out what Mikael's real business in Hedeby was, and Figuerola wants to keep an eye on him as someone who could compromise the confidentiality of her department's work.

In book one, Mikael submitted himself to Cecilia's rules and whims without question, and seemed genuinely hurt and disappointed when she broke off the affair and gave him the cold shoulder. In his relationship with Figuerola, Mikael is in control. He plays along with her as long as it suits his goals: she has shown early on that she is prepared to give him classified information which he needs to pad out the holes in his story, and he rings her when he desperately needs a car to chase Jonas. Besides, Mikael is doing a dangerous balancing act when he passes on information that Lisbeth has dug out with her hacking skills, without revealing how he got the information. He can't afford to get Figuerola's hackles up or arouse her suspicions, by refusing her advances. But there is no question that his work on Lisbeth's behalf has priority, and chatting with Lisbeth before she goes to prison is clearly more important to him than having sex with Figuerola.

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As it turns out, the publication of Mikael's book and of the special issue of Millennium have little influence on the outcome of Lisbeth's trial: Annika's carefully constructed defense has already won the day. Lisbeth's video documentation of Bjurman's rape has dismantled the prosecutor's argument, namely, that her description of Bjurmanm's sadistic brutally is pure imagination, and proof of her mental illness. What eventually decides the trial is the proof that Teleborian's psychiatric evaluation is a fake: Plague and Trinity have pried loose several versions of this evaluation from Teleborian's computer, and Mikael and Edklinth testify that they have received those documents before Teleborian ever had a chance to "observe" Lisbeth. The collection of over 8000 pornographic images of children, which they have also found on Teleborian's computer, leads to his immediate arrest.

But it is still Mikael's strategy which proves successful – and his tireless research and advocacy, as well as his efforts to coordinate the various investigative teams. His clout as a journalist, and the reputation of his magazine, ensure that people in high places pay attention: it is what kicks Constitutional Protection into speedy action, and what prompts the Prime Minister to give special authority to investigate against members of a government organization. They can't afford the political scandal that would doubtless follow Mikael's publication, if they did not act on the information they have received.

The publication of Mikael's findings does, of course, provoke the inevitable media circus: but rather than getting carried away by this professional success, as he did two years ago when the Wennerström book caused a stir, this time Mikael shows little interest in being handed from one tv talk show to the next. What he really wants is talk to Lisbeth. And she still does not want to talk to him.

After the ordeal Lisbeth has been put through over the last several months, all she wants is to be left alone – by everyone. Annika, who has so far meticulously avoided acting as go-between between Mikael and Lisbeth, feels compelled to put in a word for her brother: she has guessed what Lisbeth feelings are toward him (and no doubt she is aware that Mikael's commitment to her is very uncharacteristic of her brother) – but she feels it is up to them to sort out their issues themselves. Lisbeth tells her that she needs some time – but that she wants Annika to continue acting as her lawyer. Annika explains to Lisbeth that she finds her frequent refusal to communicate or answer her questions, frustrating and exasperating – something that Lisbeth perhaps genuinely does not realize. As a gesture of apology, Lisbeth trusts her with her real address – a secret that so far, only Mikael knows.

The morning after the trial, Lisbeth packs her bags and heads to the airport, where she takes the next available flight: she winds up in Gibraltar, where she spends a couple of months killing time and doing some of the unconstructive things people do when they struggle with emotional issues: she goes on a drinking binge, and has a couple of one night stands with random men – but she quickly gets bored of it. She also meets the financial expert whom she has employed to administrate Wennerström's fortune on her behalf. She finds that she can discuss some of her personal problems with him: it is he who points out to her that "friendship is probably the most common form of love" – this comes as a revelation to Lisbeth, because it explains to her that if Mikael keeps talking about "friendship" when she would like him to talk about "love", all it comes down to, really, is a question of semantics.

Lisbeth is anxious to see Miriam, who has moved back to Paris, and to apologize to her for putting her life in danger. She is afraid of this meeting and keeps putting it off – but when she finally gathers up the courage, she finds that Miriam has never even thought of blaming her. Miriam has decided to stay in Paris for a while and continue her studies there – but she plans to keep Lisbeth's old flat, and to eventually return to Stockholm. Their relationship remains on a question mark.

Back in Stockholm, Lisbeth meets Annika, who informs her that she has inherited some money and some real estate from her father. Lisbeth wants nothing to do with Zalachenko's money, but decides to check out one of the properties north of Stockholm: she finds that it has been used as a warehouse for newly arrived girls from Eastern Europe en route to Swedish brothels. She also finds Niederman, who has been hiding out in the tumble-down industrial structure since the events in Gosseberga. She manages to put him out of action by nailing his feet to the floor, but rather than killing him herself – and facing another murder accusation and another trial – she decides to let the biker gang from Svavelsjö do the dirty work for her, and then calls the police: she has learned how to use the system, rather than try to singlehandedly fight against it.

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An author who wants to write a novel about violence and injustice against women, needs to be very careful indeed about the kind of love story they write. Reaffirming the old myth that finding the right partner somehow solves every problem, just wouldn't do. The illusion that a couple at one point starts "living happily ever after", is in some sense a dangerous myth: it sets the bar impossibly high for any real relationship to measure up to. Relationships – just like democracy, or equality, or justice – are an ongoing process: something that requires permanent effort, not something that reaches a point of perfection and then remains static, as the literary trope of the "happy end" will have us believe.

One of the real winning points of the Millennium trilogy is that it does not fall into that trap: there is no grand reconciliation scene or flamboyant love declaration complete with Hollywood kiss. The end of the third book – which, like the ends of the first and second books, represents an important turning point in the relationship between Lisbeth and Mikael – is just that: a milestone, not a goal post. Lisbeth and Mikael will continue to have a relationship – but what shape that relationship will take, is up to every reader to decide for themselves.

When Lisbeth returns to her flat the evening after her trial, she finds traces of Mikael everywhere: he has slept in her bed, worked on her desk, and used her computer equipment. He has also returned all her belongings: the bag she lost when the Svavelsjö bikers tried to kidnap her, her portable computer, her false pass, and her set of keys. The only message he has left her is a note with his phone number: an invitation which she ignores.

Mikael has also gone and stocked Lisbeth's fridge with some necessities: fresh milk, bread and cheese, and a stack of her favourite frozen pizza. A gesture which, in its simplicity, conveys far more feeling than any more lavish display of "welcome back home" might have done, but Lisbeth seems to be fundamentally unable to believe that anyone – let alone someone like Mikael, who moves in such different circles, and seems to be perpetually surrounded by women who want to get into his pants – could simply want to be nice to her, or care about her for who she is. Her life up to that point doesn't seem to have included that experience.

Even now, she believes that after Mikael has published her story – and will probably "win some bloody price" for it – he is unlikely to be very interested in her. She understands that it is now up to her to stay in touch: Mikael won't impose himself if she does not want to be contacted. What she does not seem to understand, is that Mikael is feeling just as insecure as she is: that her failure to communicate with him hurts him, and that from his point of view, insisting on seeing her when she does not invite him, would be a lack of respect for her autonomy, and her right to give or refuse consent.

If Lisbeth was on top of the world at the end of the first book, despite her cruel disappointment with Mikael, then at the end of the third book, she seems somehow defeated – even though she has won all her battles. Now that the trial is over, she does not seem to know what to do with herself, and with all the money she has at her disposal. And if she was content with her solitary life at the beginning of the story, now she is feeling her loneliness.

So what really happens at the end of the third book? Is it really the "open" end most reviewers have made it out to be? The thread left dangling, begging for a sequel?

It is generally believed that Stieg Larsson was planning to continue the series: one rumour says that he was planning ten books in total. His long-time partner Eva Gabrielsson claims that part of a fourth book has already been written and exists as a computer file somewhere, but due to her disagreements with Larsson's father and brother, who have inherited the rights to the books (Larsson and Gabrielsson weren't married, and there was no will), she understandably refuses to reveal where that file is kept. Recently, it has been announced that another author has been commissioned to write more books based on Stieg Larsson's characters – but not based on Stieg Larsson's own drafts. Personally, I find that idea revolting, and disrespectful in the extreme.

I also believe that the trilogy is essentially complete in itself: otherwise Larsson would presumably not have published it in this format. There are signs that he was indeed setting up a sequel: he introduces a new character, Susanne Linder, toward the end of the third book, who seems to invite a larger story arc: one of Armansky's employees, she is charged with looking after Erika's personal security, and the two women develop a spontaneous friendship (indeed, one wonders if Erika will come to find that she has been looking for that perfect orgasm in all the wrong places). Susanne Linder learns from Erika that Lisbeth is a hacker: a betrayal of Erika's commitment to protect Lisbeth as a source, and an indiscretion which may well create serious problems for Lisbeth in future.

It isn't quite clear if Erika betrays this information accidentally or deliberately, after Lisbeth has volunteered her hacking skills to identify Erika's stalker, in the midst of her own hectic preparations for her trial: my impression is that it is a "deliberate accident", in line with Erika's backstabbing manipulativeness which has already been shown on other occasions: she is unlikely to let Mikael go without a fight. In either case, it is a line which Erika ought not to have crossed – it is definitely the point where she loses my sympathy as a reader. It would have been interesting to see how Larsson would have played out that plotline!

There is also the question of the whereabouts of Lisbeth's twin sister Camilla, who needs to be located because she has inherited half of Zalachenko's estate. And we have as yet not received an explanation of the significance of Lisbeth's tattoos – though it is hinted that they each represent some violation or traumatic event she has been exposed to.

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Still – reading the books carefully, it becomes clear that the end of the third book is anything but "open". On the contrary: it ties up the loose ends in Mikael and Lisbeth's relationship neatly with a bow, and elegantly finishes the story arc of their relationship, which is what has been holding the multifarious and wildly disparate elements of this story together.

Here is Lisbeth at the end of book one: "She had never in her life felt such a longing. She wanted Mikael Blomkvist to ring her doorbell and … what? Lift her off the ground, hold her in his arms? Passionately take her into the bedroom and tear off her clothes? No, she really just wanted his company. She wanted to hear him say that he liked her for who she was. That she was someone special in his world and in his life. She wanted him to give her some gesture of love, not just of friendship and camaraderie".

The very last scene of the third book shows us Mikael once again ringing Lisbeth's doorbell (tick). Lisbeth feels "annoyed": just as she felt "annoyed" that evening in Hedeby when she decided to walk into Mikael's bedroom and crawl into his bed – and just as she was "annoyed" when she ran across him in a bar shortly after returning to Stockholm, early in book two.

Mikael brings her the news of Niederman's demise, which he has heard about on the evening news: he is still hiding behind his professional capacity as a news man at this point, but when he runs out of things to report, after a moment's silence, he admits that his business is personal by asking if she wants company. This is a line which Lisbeth herself has been using several times, and which for her generally implied "company in bed" – but Mikael assures her that he is offering "just company" (tick).

He does not do any of the standard things lovers generally do at the end of standard romance novels - i.e. "lift her off the ground and hold her in his arms", or "passionately take her into the bedroom and tear off her clothes" (tick).

In other words, Lisbeth gets just precisely what she has been waiting for ever since the end of book one – just before that disastrous moment when she ran across Mikael and Erika. And as to the "gestures of love" – there have been two books' worth of them. One trusts that even Lisbeth realizes this.

Mikael, of course, also gets what he has wanted ever since the beginning of book two: he rings Lisbeth's doorbell, and she opens the door.

Happy end? I should think so. Just not, you know, your average happy end.

Mikael has brought with him a bag of bagels – just as he did when he came to Lisbeth's old flat the very first time they met – which seems a way of saying "can we start over again". And if he assures her that he is "a good friend visiting another good friend" – then I think it is not an indication that he wants to "put her in the friend zone" as the saying goes, but rather that he is down on his metaphorical knees, begging her to please not close that door in his face again: that he wants to have a relationship with her on any terms whatsoever. This, I think, is a very important point.

Lisbeth herself is ambivalent: she "does not know if she is disappointed or relieved" by Mikael's assurance that he wants "just company". He still is "that damnably attractive man" even if she observes that "she no longer has any feelings for him" – which she immediately qualifies with "at least not those kinds of feelings": that is, "it no longer hurts her to see him". The last time she reflected on "those kinds of feelings", she was thinking about the sudden surge of hate she had felt for Erika when she saw her head off with Mikael, and how she had wanted to hurt or even kill her. Those are feelings which Lisbeth finds inadmissible in herself – they remind her too much of her father, Zalachenko: the man who beat her mother until she was disabled, and who shot his own daughter without a moment's hesitation.

Lisbeth also no longer needs to be afraid of what Mikael will think when he finds out about the "rat's nest" that her life is – such as the fact that she had been declared mentally incompetent. This fear has been keeping her from entering into close relationships with anyone. Now, it is no longer only Lisbeth who knows all of Mikael's secrets: he knows all of her's as well, and he still stands on her doorstep wanting to have coffee and bagels with her. The author symbolically resets their gameplay to before things went wrong between them – but now they are on a more level playing field.

One predominant theme of the third novel is "healing": Lisbeth's physical healing from the wounds Zalachenko has inflicted on her, and her social and legal restoration, in finding justice for the wrongs done to her, and having her declaration of incompetence declared invalid. What remains, is her personal and emotional healing from all the psychological scars her past has left her with. The author makes it quite clear throughout the story, that Mikael is someone who can help her with that. In that sense, their age difference is a positive thing: Mikael is mature enough to be able to offer her some of the guidance she has been lacking so far, to help her grow into a full-fledged adult, and learn to function within society.

Amusingly, Lisbeth compares Mikael to "a piece of gum that keeps sticking under the sole of her shoe". But she does realize that it makes no sense for her to continue to pretend that he does not exist. My personal interpretation of this final scene is that it is absolutely meant to be the "happy end" that brings them back together – but the understated (to put it mildly) way it is written reflects the fact that both Lisbeth and Mikael carry a lot of baggage, and that they are both fundamentally scared of giving way to their feelings for each other.

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One of the inspirations for this story was a real life murder case: a girl in her early twenties, a photo model known to Larsson personally, was killed by her former lover – a significantly older man – after she terminated her relationship with him. It would be tempting to see Mikael as inspired by this older man: someone who also cannot let go of his substantially younger girlfriend – and to accordingly interpret the final scene of the book as an acknowledgement that Mikael can't "have Lisbeth back" as his lover. But by all accounts, the real life murderer had more in common with Magge Lundin and his gang of bikers from Svavelsjö MC. Mikael's behaviour seems to represent an alternative course of action a man in this situation could have taken – if he had actually cared about the girl, rather than regarding her as a possession which no one else was allowed to have. In fact, it is one of Mikael's hang-ups that he does not want to be seen behaving in the same way as certain other middle aged men we meet in the course of the narrative, who have a preference for girls Lisbeth's age, or even younger.

Besides, the author makes it perfectly clear that Lisbeth's problem is certainly not a lack of independence and self-determination: her problem is her inability to form close relationships with other people. Mikael is the one person whom she is capable of feeling completely comfortable with, and whom she is able to trust implicitly. It is not that she does not want to have a relationship with him – quite the contrary. Her hang-up is her lack of self confidence in personal matters, and a profound inability to believe that having the kind of relationship she would like to have with Mikael, is within the realm of possibility. She is also scared of the tendency for violence she observes within herself – presumably a legacy from her father – and of the way that her feelings for Mikael could prompt her to turn that violence against people who do not deserve it: for instance, someone like Erika.

*** To be continued

Arohanui, from Asni

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