keskiviikko 12. joulukuuta 2012

Artist of the Month: Henry Darger.

Hi guise!

Wow is it December already? I'm not feeling very festive yet. Even though we have so much snow and it looks reeeaally pretty and it's cold, I have yet to receive that christmas spirit =/ The year before last year I was getting giddy about christmas after Halloween. I was living in England....yeah...I miss England. That December in England was so beautiful (even though there was the whole trouble with Heathrow and such). Christmas commercialism is so over the top in England that no wonder I'm not feeling the christmas vibe. But to be fair, I haven't been to the city (Helsinki) in quite a while. I just go to work, and then I go home (I live in the suburbs). Bah, I'll get my game on in no time =D 

And The Hobbit, Omg The Hobbit came out today =D And my little sister and my future brother- in-law are coming home for christmas. They're bringing their baby bunny with them. It's Mochi's first trip to Finland. I can't wait to see all three of them. And I have managed to secure all my shifts at the restaurant so all I need to do now is, well do them. Then I'm off to London! Everything is coming up roses <3 


 December's artist is an American, Henry Darger. Darger was born in Chicago in April 1892 to Rosa Fullman and Henry Joseph Darger Senior. Henry Junior had a very unfortunate start, his mother died in labor four years after his birth and sister was adopted straight away so he never saw her. Henry Junior was left in his father's care, and in his journal he writes how his father was kind and reassuring father to him, and they lived happily together. Until 1900 when the crippled and poor Henry Senior became incapable of taking care of little Henry so he was placed in an orphanage when he was eight. His father died a few years later at St. Augustine's Catholic Mission home. At the orphanage Darger junior was diagnosed mentally ill and send to The Lincoln asylum for "feeble-minded children".

A very depressing beginning don't you think. At school Darger didn't get a long with the teachers or the fellow pupils. He often quarrelled with the teachers about history, particularly about the Civil War. Darger himself said that his 'problem' was being able to see through adult lies. He described himself as the smart-aleck, a person who is obnoxious to the point of being actually smart and cleaver. He seemed to take a very arrogant stand on everyone around him. He also went through a lengthy phase of 'feeling compelled' to make strange noises earning him the nickname 'Crazy'. Me, a retard! I knew more than the whole bunch of them”, he later wrote in his journal. It's possible that some of the punishments Darger went through at The Lincoln asylum seem to have worked their way into the Realms of the Unreal. Darger later said that there were also good times there, he found some of the work enjoyable, and he had friends as well as enemies. (that may be, but in reality our mind plays tricks with us, so sometimes we can't really remember just how bad our bad times were). 

Darger tried to run away several times, but it wasn't until he was 16 that he finally succeeded and returned to Chicago in 1908. According to his autobiography, on his way to Chicago, he witnessed a huge tornado that devastated the central Illinois. He described it as "a wind convulsion of nature tremendous beyond all man's conception". Subsequently weather became one of the key characters in Darger's paintings. The tornado demolished a little and nobody was hurt.
In Chicago, with the help of his godmother, young Darger found minor work in a Catholic hospital. Darger continued to support himself with odd jobs until his retirement in 1963. When the first World War came, Darger was glad to join the troops. How unfortunate for him, he was discharged and sent home a few months later. Evidently he was unfit for the duty both mentally and physically.

Back in Chicago Darger started attending mass daily and he became a very religious man. In 1930 he settled into a second-floor room where he wrote and painted his massive In the Realms of the Unreal. At this time he tried to adopt several times, but he was always turned down. I believe Darger longed for real companionship with someone, and perhaps one of the reasons he wanted to adopt was because he wanted to save a helpless child from the same life he had had so far. Evidently Darger was very found of children, but unfortunately he'd have to spend the rest of his life alone. Darger died on April 1973 in St. Augustine's Catholic Mission home, the same place his father had died in. A little later Darger's landlord Nathan Lerner went to empty Darger's room and found all his paintings and drawings and collages along with bunch of Crucifixes and small statues of the virgin Mary and knick-knacks. On the walls he saw newspaper clippings about awful incidents and events. Then Nathan pulled up a massive book bound by hand. It was too big to open inside the room. The book revealed art material and writing dating back to 40 years. Parchment and paper glued together, paintings, drawings, collages, watercolours. And then, there was the book of 15145 pages called "The Story of the Vivian Girls in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion”. It's a 13 volume 'novel' and I'm a little confused whether it has never been published or if there are couple volumes available. Would be an interesting read I'm sure. Apart from his paintings and the first book, Darger also wrote a sequel of over 8000 pages. In the sequel, the Vivian Girls have come to Chicago. He also wrote an autobiography, of which the first 206 pages are dedicated to his childhood and the remaining 4878 pages describe a 'fantasy' tornado called “Sweety Pie” (probably the same tornado he saw). On top of all this, his journal. 

With his work Henry Darger created a new art movement which embodies naivism and outsider art: Dargerism. Personally I think it's such an honour for Darger to have a real art movement named after him. And it's such an honour to Outsider Artists as well. It's well deserved since Darger made such a grand contribution to the American art and to the art world.

Untitled 2.
On with the pictures! The picture in the beginning is just a section from a much larger painting. Usually I hate the use of Sinopia red, Ultramarine blue and Lemon yellow together because they remind me of those 6 colour cake palettes that children use in school. I had to paint with those 6 primarily colours for 5 years until on my 6th year, the school gave us a Hooker's green colour cake. I was ecstatic! So the colours in 'Untitled' remind me of elementary school where only those 6 colours excist. (Colouring pencils are a different story!). Anyway 'Untitled' illustrates the Realms of the Unreal, speaking of religion and society and how they come together in people's lives. In this piece Darger shows us his style. The children are most likely copied from magazines and from adverts because they look rather precise. Darger's speciality was to cut pictures of children from papers and magazines and then paste them onto his drawings/paintings. He'd then retouch the clippings, creating a collage. The 'Untitled' is not a collage though. His collages are interesting, but I'm far more interested in Darger's paintings/drawings. There is a lot of motion and energy going on in 'Untitled'. Darger left most of the children white which is good because it makes them stand out from the colourful background. He doesn't apply as much spontaneity to the technique he uses on the children, compared to the butterfly wings or the background. That's probably because Darger drew the children from images so every pencil stroke was well planned. The children needed to look like children, the whimsy and creativity would be expressed on the background and with the colours. The way Darger paints and uses colour, reminds me very much of children's paintings. However, there's also a certain flatness going on that only an adult is capable of producing. One needs to use specific tenchniques in order to achieve that kind of flatness in painting. If you look at the butterfly wings, or the bushes you may notice how flat they actually look. I don't mean this in a bad way because it totally works for the image. I say this image shows you Darger's whole repertoire in one go.

Vivian Girls Watching Approaching Storm in Rural Landscape.

Whilst 'Untitled' foreshadowed bad things, this Vivian Girls painting is a much happier painting. Even though they are expecting a storm, everything is still fine at the moment. This is such a beautiful and unique painting! It reminds me of really old hand-painted postcards, but this is like a haute version of them. I wouldn't mind putting this up on my wall  =D
I'd like to direct your attention to the Vivian Girls now. Notice how well Darger has drawn and then coloured the girls. His drawing is so simple and delicate. Drawing peple's faces can be a challenge because most of the time the result is more cartoonish than realistic, but Darger has doged that pit. It's probably the simplicity of his style that has helped him to avoid the cartoonish look. Of course the paintings look a little cartoonish, but in a good, fine art way. (I like cartoons too). In this piece we also get to see some of that playful side of Darger. Well maybe it's not supposed to be playful, but symbolic of children's Hermaphroditical tendencies.
It's otherwise unclear what Darger wants to say with these girls with penises. Couple reviewers say that Darger was unfamiliar with the female body, so that's why some of the Vivian Girls have penises. Whilst I think that this is a representation of sexless kids. After all, all kids are sexless until their parents (and the society) start to school them about their actual gender. Notice that in Darger's paintings there are also characters who lack gender all together. They look like children, but lack the standard features of either male or female character. Which brings us back to the Hermaphroditic option. However this young-children-naked thing that's crusial part of the series doesn't seem inappropriate or creepy at all. Maybe it's the bright colours and all the innocence that make the nakedness seem natural. I imagine that Darger wanted to express children's curiosity with the nakedness, it's not uncommon that children run around naked at one point in their lives because they don't have that sense of respect or shame yet. The happy colours intergrate with the scene and seem to highlight that innocent-naked-children theme even more. The colours make the whole scene more child-like and sweet. The place the Vivian Girls live in is made by children, for children. It's incredible how Darger managed to create such an original tale and art even after such a loveless childhood. To me it seems like the Realms of the Unreal was created by a very happy person who had a very happy childhood. (But then again I guess this is one of those psychological things that 'if you only see good things happening, you can't help, but become depressed' kind of things). But then, the Vivian Girls come across with the Glandelians...

At Battle of Drosabellanaximillian.
'Battle' tells of the war the Vivian Girls have to fight in order to save their homeland. It seems to me that with this war Darger is trying to say that adults will always be the bad guys. Children are the innocent and sweet force of the universe who get damaged by the adults. It's not growing up that damages children (us), it's adults who force children to grow up and accept their corrupted way of living. The price a child has to pay if he/she refuses to grow up is high. As we can see in the painting above. Of course anyone can see that this is just a display of Darger's knowledge of the American Civil War he was so found of. The flags, the uniforms, the big battle fields all say 'Civil War'. Well it's the Vivian Girl's Civil War. The Glandelians have proclaimed war on their catholic neighbours, the Vivian Girls. The 7 Princesses have to go up against the evil general John Manley who sends his troops to destroy the Vivian Girls. Henry Darger is the brave and valiant Captain who saves the girls from certain destruction. 
All this makes me wonder who does get to decide when it's our time to grow up? Does our enviroment really effect us so much that without us noticing, it literally forces us to grow up. And without noticing, we grow up. I'm just thinking about my adolescence and how I wanted to be a grown up already so that I could do all the fun things grown ups do. And now, in my mid-twenties I'm thinking about my decaying youth >_<
Personally I don't think it's really the adults who force their children to grow up quickly. It's people in general. People who work in marketing for example have done an amazing job marketing shit for everyone, even marketing dramas and cartoons about high school stuff to 10 year old girls and make them really want to live the high school life of a 17 year old. How twisted is that? Ahem, I digress. Darger raised good points about adults spoiling children's innocence. But since I have a little cynic living inside me, I can say that I have met some pretty shitty children too (no matter how hard their parents try, their children are still shitty). Again focus your attention on the detailing Darger shows here. It's marvelous the way Darger leaves the people and the ground white/yellowish to bring the viewer's attention to the character's clothes and flags. Supposedly the painting/scene from the story is not about the people who are fighting, but about the clashing ideologizes. Really truly beautiful and deep painting to behold.
Darger wrote two endings for the Vivian Girls. In the first one christianity and the Vivian Girls win. In the other one the girls are defeated and their world is thrown into godlessness. You tell me which one you prefer.

Untitled 3.
In the end, I think Darger's art is a representation of how he imagined the outside world. After his retirement, he locked himself in his room and worked on the Realms. To me it seems like Darger was imagining what was happening outside his little room. Perhaps that's why he didn't dare to leave his room, because in reality there was nothing out there for him. However if he stayed inside and imagined what was happaning outside, then he could be part of it too. I just have this idea that Darger must have imagined that the child slave rebellion was happening right outside his little room. Because all the critics have said that the story feels like Darger was really there, like the war really happened. Darger's paintings resembles religious/middle age art a lot, which usually describes events from the bible or the reality long-gone. So I can understand why people who have seen the paintings like to think that it could have been real. In the end, one needs to remember that for Henry this was not art. I'm guessing his art and his writings were his private thoughts ment just for himself. Perhaps this was a sort of a self discovery journey for him. Something he wanted to be reality, but it would only be his reality and not the real reality itself. 

Darger's 'Untitled' and other paintings can be seen in The Simpsons, season 20 episode 09 'Lisa the Drama Queen'. Lisa and her new friend go to a museum and you can see Darger's work on the wall. That was a nice surprise from The Simpsons. 

Below is a trailer of Jessica Yu's documentary of Henry Darger and the Realms of the Unreal. 
I didn't know about this documentary until I started researching for this review. It looks really interesting and I shall check it out soon.

And here's a link to the American Folk Art Museum which has the biggest Darger collection in the world.

That's it for this review. I'll see you again before New Years with my 2012 post. What has happened to me in 2012 =D 

Have a very Merry Christmas everyone!! Thank you for reading!


perjantai 30. marraskuuta 2012

Artist of the Month: Shimizu Yuko.

Konnichiwa guise!

November's artist is yet another Japanese. At first it looked like nobody was really interested in my Murakami Takashi post, but it has been climing up steadily.

I think I reviewed Shimizu Yuko twice in college. But the review from my first year is much better than the review from my second year. I read about her in an illustration book. Her work captured me immediately. I like that she can work both, modest themese and really sexed-up themes. And as some of you may have noticed by now, I really like sexed-up art (but yeah I can appreciate non-sexual art too).

Target and New York 2005.

Even without knowing that she was Japanese, I could have guessed it by the way she draws. The brush marks and the black ink makes it so obvious (even after all the computer editing). Like so many other Japanese artists, Shimizu combines fine art and comic art. It's up to you to decide whether it's totally tacky or not. Is it tacky to draw inspiration from the only excisting art form left in one's society? Well I'm a huge sucker for Japanese art/manga so of course I love Shimizu's work.

Shimizu's illustarations are something completely different from to the other illustrations (mostly commercial) one sees out there. The way she narrates news and hot topics in her work is rather remarkable. She addresses the topic from her point of view, rather than just illustrating the magizine's/writer's opinion.

Maybe it's not such a bad thing that Shimizu is drawing inspiration from Japanese drawing techniques. In 'Target and New York' we can see rather traditional Japanese calligraphy. Okay well maybe not exactly that traditional, but if you study the soles of the girl's shoes and the tyre of her bike you can see how very Japanese Shimizu's brush strokes are. She uses black ink like a manga-ka would, but in some way, her illustrations are more expressive than any manga I have ever read (gasp). I have read a lot of manga and yes I have seen some pretty extraordinary talents, but manga is still very restricted and there are a lot of rules about how one should draw and construct manga. Whilst Fine Art is more liberal. Even illustration leaves some room for the artist to be creative. I'm having a bit of a hard time trying to understand how Shimizu has managed to publish so many illustrations. I just don't see a big market for an illustration about a girl shaving her pubic hair and making a teddybear out of it, drawn in Japanese style (you wanna see that illustration). But then again maybe this style was popular back then. Never the less, Shimizu is a natural talent and that mirrors her work. The show stopper of 'Target and New York' is without a doubt, the angle. The angle is very dynamic, and don't you feel like you are lying on the ground and the biker girl is about to run you over? The angle is clearly made to address the viewer directly. 
The only colour in this piece is red, but it's very well thought over. The article is targeting New York, so Shimizu put a red target over New York. I imagine that that bridge leads to NY. That's all NY we need to see, the article will tells us the rest. Shimizu is just referencing to NY with the bridge and the city on the background. I prefer colourful art, so this is not one of my favourite pieces from Shimizu, but I like how the biker girl is sticking her legs out and how her hair is flying freely in the wind. Very dynamic piece, plus I hadn't seen an illustration like this before.

I'm just contemplating whether it's a good thing that Shimizu is making a commercial thing out of Japanese art or not. Murakami Takashi is doing exactly the same thing, but a little differently. Well anyway, illustrating is all about stories and commercialism. 'Target and New York' accommodates all the rules of good, commercial illustration: simple colouring, strong lines and an eye catching angle. And this piece works for both ways, it's an ad but it can also be Fine Art. In my opinion what could make this fine art, is the Japanese drawing technique. Shimizu clearly has drawn on both damp and dry surfaces to give the image some 'special effects'. Her lines are very clean and simple, it looks very Japanese to me. Personally I think that Japanese calligraphy and Indian ink, can make any art piece look fancy. Personally again, I think that most of Shimizu's pieces would work better as Fine Art pieces than simple illustrations. Most of her works are too detailed and decorated to be 'official' illustrations. Illustrations, especially for commercial purposes, need to be simple yet eye catching. Shimizu's pieces are way too fancy to be simple images ment to promote something. However perhaps it's a good thing that Shimizu is doing her fair share of showing what Fine Art can be like to the masses

Fujiyama Sakura-Fubuki 2006.
This next piece Shimizu made for a calendar to promote B&A boutique. Luckily Shimizu isn't all about calligraphy and manga-style, she can use colours as well. And she uses them rather well. She has downloaded her whole portfolio on her website and if you browse through it, you notice that Shimizu's pieces have become more colourful over the years. I'm especially fond of the pieces that don't have black lines anymore, now they are pink or blue for ex. They remind me a little of Disney Renaissance films. 
'Fujiyama' only has 4 primary colours, but add them to the dynamic image and you get a surprisingly vibrant piece. Grey and light pink go surprisingly well together. And those partly erased black ink lines just add to that Avant-garde idea this piece seems to be going for. I think it was rater cleaver to erase the outlines a little, especially the clothe's outlines. Makes them look more soft and vabric-ish. If Shimizu had kept the black lines really strong I fear they would have disturbed the look of the image because the rest of the colours are already so tender. The image itself is a lot of fun and in a way very cheeky. Here we have a sort of a Japanese Geisha-rock star who has come to spread her music throughout the Western lands. She is very proud of her heritage and country, but as a rock star she can also make fun of her culture and take advantage of it to make her look more exotic for the Westerns. I would definately wear this image on a shirt.

Blow-Up Nr. 1, The Bubble 2010.
 'The Bubble' is a good example of Shimizu's imagination. As I understand, this is her original idea, and not an illustration. Blow-Up was a show arranged by The Society of Illustrators. I got this quote where Shimizu explains how the Blow-Up pieces came to her:
"AD gave me a lot of freedom so I was able to play around and experiment with coloring, composition and imagery itself. Using this image as a starting point, I decided to create new pieces that play around with the definition of word ‘blow up’: bubble, storm blowing and explosion".
Overall, Shimizu's take on things is interesting. It seems to me that she would be able to take any subject, and create something of her liking from it. I'm not quite sure what the idea behind 'The Buddle' is, but the image looks great. I'm guessing someone is in a rush to orgasm and the others are holding them back. But this is just a wild guess, the image is rather suggestive though, in a modest yet obvious way. Shimizu must have spend hours, maybe even days drawing this image. Naturally the result is a-may-zaah. This piece is a superb illustration, but I could also see it blown-up and framed, like Fine Art. In 'The Bubble' we see some classic presention of Shimizu's detailing in the clouds and characters. It must have taken some training to get one's eyes to properly focus on the characters one is drawing. At least my eyes start to hurt when I stare at the thing I'm drawing/detailing  for too long. However I'm sure one gets used to it after one does it on daily basis. Anyway, this is not my favourite pieces from Shimizu, again, but I'm trying to direct your attention to the details and concentration Shimizu presents in this piece. It is a very powerful and detailed piece, and if I hadn't seen her portfolio, I'd say this must be her most detailed piece. However I have seen her portfolio, and I know that she is capable of doing even more detailed and fancier illustrations than this. 'The Bubble' is a great piece among the others, it's just the subject that baffles me. What the hell is going on in this piece!? Maybe that's why I like it so much, because it's so Avant-Garde and so, so Japan!

Playboy. Sex Story 2011.
I'm quickly showing you this. It's an illustration Shimizu did for Playboy in 2011. Again a piece that expresses Shimizu's attention for detail and it now has that colour outlining I was talking about previously. Really the girls are outlined with different shades of pink! Genious! It really reminds me of the 1990's Disney films (even though the concept of this illustration is so not Disney!). If you look at any Disney film from the 1990's, you'll notice that not once did the artist outline the characters with black! They always used colours, and the colours were always a shade darker than the character's skin tone, or the clothe's etc. Personally I'm really interested to try this one out, outline characters with colours. As for this illustration, it's very much for boys.

Butterfly Hunting 2012.
 And lastly, what Shimizu has been doing in 2012. Oui, this is not my favourite piece from 2012, but I like the etymology of this piece. It's very simple, girls are like butterflies, you want to catch them and preserve them so you can look at them for the rest of your life. Or is that it? If you look at the illustration closely you can see children playing on the background. So it's a play, the children are playing and trying to catch butterflies. It's a very sweet and actually rather nostalgic illustration. (Although I personally don't like the fact that the kids are trying to catch butterflies =/ I think all living creatures should be left in peace). But anyway, it is a nostalgic picture because who hasn't been chasing butterflies. The image's colours especially stress out the meaning of time and decay. Even the reds and the greens are all vashed out. Only the yellows are left vibrant.
Perhaps Shimizu wanted to direct the viewers eyes to the butterflies specifically. I just find it really charming how the person holding the net, caught the other kid too. Or perhaps they weren't aming for the butterflies at all, but for the kid. That's a funny idea, but in my opinion, kids would try to pull of something like that xD
In case you were wondering what technique she uses, Shimizu draws the image first with pencils and ink on watercolour paper. Then she does a little bit of shading and colouring until she scans it, and applyes the rest of the colours with photoshop. She does all the final touch-ups with photoshop too. This piece is just another example of Shimizu's photoshopping skills. It's beautiful, but I feel a little bit cheated that she didn't actually paint the piece herself, but resorted to multimedia. I like multimedia art, but personally I appreciate Fine Artists much more because they do everything by their hands and from scratch. Personally I think multimedia is cheating, you get all these wonderful effects and results with photoshop etc, but basically you didn't make the image yourself, a computer program made it for you.

If you go through her portfolio, you can see that Shimizu is not 'a one hit wonder'. Her themes are interesting and her palettes are interesting. The colours and the themes seem to be in perfect harmony in every piece of hers (and sometimes it seems like it's the colours that make the whole image look interesting. That the theme wouldn't look interesting without the innovative palette). Shimizu expresses a wonderful sense of fantasy and imagination in her works, but she also continues to drawn inspiration from reality. Her technique and style never changes, but there's a variation there, and that variation keeps the viewer/fan wondering what's yet to come.

I hope you enjoyed my review on Shimizu Yuko. Next I'm thinking about doing either Henry Darger, which would be really interesting, or Hergé O_o Although Hergé deserve a big review, like Tove Jansson, and I haven't done that much research on him yet. We'll see..

See you in Decembre! Thanks for reading!


tiistai 27. marraskuuta 2012

Autumn book club: The Salaryman's wife.

Hi guise!

So it's winter, hence this is my last book review. I may write book reviews again in the future, but for now, this is my last one. I like reading books, and it's such a shame that I don't have enough time to read new books anymore. Whilst I was in high school, I spend all my breaks reading books or drawing manga. One of the girls teased me by calling me 'Belle' because I always had my nose in a book ^_^ But I just don't have that kind of time anymore. This year I have read 'Let the right one in', 'The collector' (<- what a horrible book this was! Now I'm scarred for life!) and now I'm reading (reading very very slowly) 'Purge' by our pet author Sofi Oksanen.

Earlier this year, I reread 'The Salaryman's Wife'. However the first Rei book I read was the 4th book because the Finnish title 'The Deathly Manga' (english title The Floating Girl) had caught my eye. I was shopping in a discount book store and at that time I was really into anime and manga and I was studying Japanese. When I saw the manga character on the cover and read the index text, I had to buy it.  'The Deathly Manga' turned out to be really interesting, and the plot made sense, even though I had missed the first 3 books. What I really liked about the book though was Massey's insightful and vast depiction of Japanese culture. I had read books about Japan's language and culture on my own, yet I discovered bunch of stuff from Massey's books that I didn't already know about Japan. I learned something new about Japan from every Rei Shimura book =D My favourite Rei book is 'Girl in a Box' which is the 9th book in the series. I also like 'Zen Attitude' very very much, it's the 2dn book in the series. And of course I like 'The Salaryman's Wife' too.

There are 10 books in the series and 6 years ago Massey said that 'The Shimura Trouble' was the last. HOWEVER, earlier this year, she announced on her website that she is currently writing a new Rei Shimura book set in post-tsunami Tohoku. We'll just have to wait and see what comes out of that Rei book.
 I definately recommend The Rei Shimura Mysteries to everyone who's interested in Japan. 'The Salaryman's Wife' is the first book in the series.

Rei Shimura is a young Japanese-American woman in her late twenties. She was born in California and her mother is American and her father is Japanese. She has recently moved to her beloved Tokyo and works as an english teacher at Nichiyu (homeware company). However her real interest lies in Japanese antiques.

The book starts with Rei who's on her way to Shiroyama, a small village situated in the Japanese Alps. On the train she meets an American woman, Mrs. Chapman, who's also going to Shiroyama. Upon their arrival they meet the other guests and Mrs. Yogetsu, the rather unpleasant hostess/owner of the Minshuku (japanese B&B). When Rei goes to take a bath, she notices that the door is slightly jammed. Her bath is then interrupted by a gaijin (foreigner) man who misunderstood the women's bath for men's bath. Rei drives him off. She later meets him in the dining room. Hugh Glenning is a Scottish lawyer who lives in Tokyo. He's at Shiroyama to celebrate New Year's with his co-workers. His client Mr. Nakamura is there with his wife Setsuko, she is a very close friend of Hugh's. There's also a Japanese couple, Taro and Yuki, who befriend with Rei. Taro has come to Shiroyama to 'investigate' old crimes. 

Besically the opening is like straight from Agatha Christie's books, all the suspects have now gathered in the same place.
Later that evening Rei goes to fetch Mrs. Chapman for a moon light walk with the group. Hugh interrupts her search to apologize for disturbing her in the bath. They are interrupted by Setsuko who's on her way to the bath. 
The next morning Rei discovers that the door to the bath (The 'female' sign is on) is locked. When she finally yanks the door open, she discovers that a piece of paper has been keeping the door jammed. Inside she meets Yuki who says the door was locked all night last night and the bath area was left untidy. In the afternoon Rei meets Hugh and Mr. Nakamura who are searching for Setsuko. She has been missing since last night. Oddly Mr. Nakamura doesn't seem at all concerned that his wife has gone missing and so he goes skiing as planned. Rei wants to spend some time by herself, so she goes to take a walk around the garden only to discover Setsuko's body in the snow.
There's a police search and they ask Rei to be their translator for the time being. The police chief Okuhara is immediately convinced that it was a foreigner who killed Setsuko. Evidently someone had hit her in the head with a cover and thrown her out the window. Hence Hugh, Rei and Mrs. Chapman become 'primary suspects' (because a Japanese would never murdered anyone).

That was the opening. To me it didn't feel like the plot was going too slowly, because the murder occured in less than 40 pages. That's rather soon, and hey when you read a murder-detective novel, you're anxious to know who gets killed right? Meaning that the character/s will spend the rest of the book searching for the killer. That's pretty much the layout in this book, Setsuko was killed and so we'll try to figure out who killed her for the next 350 pages.

To get away from the depressing atmosphere at the minshuku, Rei goes shopping in the village and buys an antique mail box, later she finds Hugh in a bar. Long story short Hugh tells Rei that Setsuko wanted a divorce. The rest of that part Massey spends documenting her vast knowledge of Japan, nothing that's relevant to the plot though. 
Sometime at dawn Rei awakes to a terrible smell in her room. She realizes that the heater in her room is broken and it's leaking gas. Rei crawls across the room and tries to open the door, but it's jammed. Before she passes out, Hugh comes to her rescue. He carries her to his room and lets her sleep on his futon whilst he works. 

In the morning Rei and Hugh do a little investigation of their own. Rei is convinced that someone had tried to kill her, because she had told the police about the locked bathroom door and about the piece of paper she had found jammed between the door to the bath. They discover another piece of paper between Rei's door, which confirms that someone is trying to kill her. Hugh leaves for his meeting, but Rei follows him to the hotel and decides to wait for him at the bar. Later they share a taxi to the minshuku and this is where they share their first kiss. And later that night they have sex. Hugh leaves in the morning to go skiing with his collegues. Rei, still in his room finds the pearl necklace Setsuko was wearing the night she was killed. Rei decides to leave Shiroyama then and there.

That was 'the first act'. I'm now going to jump to the end because if I told you everything what happens in the book, I'd be writing this until next monday --_-- and you'd have stopped reading long since. In reality, nothing that relevant happens in the next 330 pages. Only pages 380-386 are important. We discover that Setsuko's husband had an affair with his secretary and Setsuko was secretly supporting her love child Mariko. Mariko (a bar-escort) thought Setsuko was her aunt. In the end, Setsuko was Mrs. Chapman's husband's girlfriend before he moved back to the States. Setsuko had Mariko and Mr. Chapman continued to support them from the States. Mrs. Chapman knew about this, but after her husband died, she discovered that he was spending the money reserved for their daughter, on Setsuko and Mariko. Setsuko contacted Mrs. Chapman to demand more money for Mariko so Mrs. Chapman came to Japan to talk to her in person. At the minshuku, she locked the door to the bath and accidentally killed Setsuko with the seat cover. Mrs. Chapman tells Rei everything and attempts to kill her. Hugh comes for her rescue again. TADAAH, that's how it ends. Mrs. Chapman killed Setsuko and Rei moves in with Hugh. Oh and that antique mail box Rei bought, it turnes out that it was a property of a Princess who lived on Shiroyama. Rei gains more publicity with the discovery and thus is able to begin her career in Japanese antiques.

Granted this book was way too long. The little bits in the middle, like when Rei went to the docks to find out about Mariko's father, was really dragging the story, not to mention all the bar scenes. Maybe it was necessary to make Rei invastigate all sorts of leads, to achieve that realistic feeling. The story is filled with these little bits that aren't necessary for the plot, although they make the story seem more real. Granted, she can't be like Hercule Poirot who just interviews people and lurks around and within 2 days knows who the killer is. In fact Rei wasn't suppose to do any detective stuff because she was an innocent bystander. However she sort of became one when Hugh sent her to Setsuko's wake. So I understand that Rei is primarily leading her own life, and on the side, tries to discover how Setsuko was linked to Mariko and who killed her. 

So perhaps it's Massey's writing style that slows down the plot. Scratch that, the plot keeps dragging because it's filled with unnecessary bits and pieces that really don't do anything for the story. Come to think of it, 'The Salaryman's Wife' seems more like a very long blog post, than an actual novel. Novel's should be sharp, and witty, and what can be left out, is left out. I regard the Rei series as lite entertainment and 'Japan lovers guide to Japan' than mind blowing literature. However that's what I really appreciate, Massey's bonafied knowledge of Japan. Whilst reading the books one will notice all the work and research Massey went through to get all the facts and customs of Japan right. I really appreciate that and like I said, from every Rei book I learned something new about Japan. Because the series is set in Japan, I'm able to enjoy it and disregard all the flaws the stories have. But it's not like I'm grinding my teeth when Massey is not talking about Japan. I like the plots and the characters and Rei...well she has some characteristic issues. She is made to look like she is really complex, whilst in reality she is very easy to figure out.

The only thing I find a little tacky about Rei, is the fact that she is almost literally, Massey herself. Massey used to live in Japan and she worked as an english teacher. She has dual nationality, just like Rei does, and Massey was (is?) really into antiques. Needless to say, Rei is a fantasy version of Massey. To me it is tacky when a writer has to lend their personality and quirks to their main character. It gives the impression that the writer couldn't come up with a better main character, so they put themselves in the book, so basically they are writing a fanfiction about themselves. I'm curious to know whether Rei really is a depiction of Massey herself, or is there a story of how Rei came to Massey? Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying there's something wrong about Rei. I actually identified with her a little in book 2, when I was 15. In my opinion, she is very mature for her age, perhaps too mature, and she's rather cold too. I'm in my mid twenties and I'm still rather childish, but perhaps that's one of my quirks. Rei on the other hand, is very much a grown up, although I think she has some real issues with men. But you won't see that until you meet all her boyfriend candidates.

I imagine that reading Rei books would be rather boring if we just followed the plot plot religiously, hence I like to think that the books are just stories of one woman's  life in Japan. And you'll love these books if you enjoy reading novels about Japan =)  I have 7 Rei books on my bookshelf and I'll keep rereading them. I even have Massey's autograph in my 'Pearl Diver' book. If you don't take it too seriously, literature-wise, I'm sure you'll enjoy this series!

I hope you liked this review on 'The Salaryman's Wife'. It was probably very wishy-washy, but I have been ill. And I'm still to write Novembre's artist review ^_^' Oh boy, I'm running out of time again. 

See you in a few days!!


keskiviikko 31. lokakuuta 2012

Artist of the Month: Lisa Yuskavage.

Hi guise! Happy Halloween!

Man Halloweens are so much fun xD I have to wait until saturday though, for my friend's Halloween p-a-r-t-Y.
Wow it's also getting kinda cold here in Helsinki. We even had a little bit of snow on my birthday O_o It's been a while since it snowed on my birthday. It was really truly a wonderful day =^_^=

I'm feeling somewhat stressed out X_x I have been doing nothing, but working hard for the past month. I barely have time to workout, or rest. But I shouldn't complain, you see couple weeks ago I got a call from London, from the Academy of Freelance Makeup. They had reviewed my application and called to tell me that I was eligible for the Total Pro course that I wanted to take. Hence I'm moving to London shortly after christmas! =D The course starts in early January and ends in early February (yes it's only 4 weeks) . I'm so excited! I can't wait to go back to UK. So I'm in a hurry to earn more money to pay for the rest of the course fee + I'm saving the rest for London. Hence after doing long hours at work, I barely have enough energy to workout or put out artist reviews...However, octobre's artist is a juicy one. WOOOPS! I'm still studying french ;D

Half family 1999.
It's yet another artist who paints nudes. Well Jasper Goodall doesn't exactly paint, but we see a lot of naked women in his work as well. Because his work is more cartoonish than realistic, there is no way I'd feel embarrassed or shocked whilst looking at even his most explicit pieces.
However, when I look at the works of Lisa Yuskavage...I can feel a red, hot colour rising on my cheeks.

Unlike her name suggest, Lisa Yuskavage was born in Pennsylvania US in 1962. When I first heard her name, I immediately assumed that she was from Eastern Europe. I was wrong (but it's good to review an American artist for a change). She studied at Tyler School of Art which I guess is part of the Temple University in Philadelphia. She graduated in 1984 as a Bachelor of Fine Art and two years later she got her MFA from Yale University. After that Yuskavage proceed to work on her art.   

In 1990 she had a solo show at Pamela Auchino Gallery in New York. Her paintings at the time were small and featured partially veiled upper backs of women. Even though she had painted them beautifully, Yuskavage said that it was the topic that didn't please her. In one of her interviews she said that finding a perfect topic had become an issue for her. So shortly after the solo show, she took a break from painting that lasted well over a year. During this time, she came to find her topic. She switched her women from coy to promiscuous and made them face the viewer.  She calls this new direction "kinky sfumatos," (yes thay's a word, sfumato: In painting and drawing: a misty indistinct effect obtained by gradually blending together areas of different colour or tone.) where she utilizes her technique and skills to give birth to subversional images. One of her first new paintings "The Gifts" delivered just that. It is a dark and haunted image of a pleading girl with flowers in her mouth, her hands are behind her back and her bare bosom is on display. For some reason, this painting gives me the creeps. There's so much emotion in her eyes that it makes my emotions bounce. I go from pitying her to being scared for her. I don't know what's going to happen to her. It creeps me out to imagine any girl in this kind of situation. It's a scary painting. Never the less, this painting alone is an indication of Yuskavage's artistic brilliance. 

After several years of relying solely on her imagination, Yuskavage started working on small clay sculptures. Which then led her to found photographs. But then she started to focus on her paintings again. Within two decades, Yuskavage has established her place in the art world, thrilling and shocking her viewers and critics around the world. Yuskavage says that dissatisfaction and boredom are deadly, but also important sources for her. Evidently she gets easily bored, meaning that she has to stay extremely interested to produce art. "Every painting has to really do something new for me" she says in one of her interviews. For over two decades she has been pushing the sexual envelope towards more commonplace in contemporary art. I guess she is also breaking the barrier of  the notion of what a woman artist is entitled to do. Her painting style may be very traditional in fine art terms, but it's up to you to decide whether her subject really truly is innovative, or just a bait to collect viewers. Since 2005 Yuskavage has been represented by David Zwirner gallery in New York. This is what Zwirner has to say about Yuskavage:

"Over the past two decades, she has developed her own genre of the female nude: lavish, erotic, cartoonish, vulgar, angelic young women cast within fantastical landscapes or dramatically lit interiors. They appear to occupy their own realm while narcissistically contemplating themselves and their bodies. Rich, atmospheric skies frequently augment the psychologically-charged mood, further adding to the impression of theatricality and creative possibility." David Zwirner

On with the paintings. 'Half family' came after 'The Gifts', which was Yuskavage's first 'obscene' nude. These two have nearly 8 years between them, so 'Half family' has that Rococoish colour spectrum that Yuskavage moved to work on after 'The Gifts '. 'Half family' is a sort of an icon now, because Kate Moss posed for W magazine 'dressed' like the girl in the painting. Actually the photo looked like something David LaChapelle would have produced, a really stripped down LaChappelle photo that is. But nope, wasn't him. Still there must be something very modern about the painting because it had to be recreated years later, and the girl posing for the photo just had to be a world famous supermodel. 'Half family' is a beautiful painting and colourwise it reminds me of Rococo paintings done in the mid 1800's. I mean seriously, look at that talent! The colours are so beautiful! There's energy and movement on the background, and the girl's proportions are all correct. I also like her hair very much and how the wind is blowing it across her face in a carefree manner. Initially there is something really childlike and sweet about the background of the painting. Those soft pinks and yellows give so much light to the otherwise dull background. But the matte blue and grey clouds have an air of storm to them, and combined with the soft green grass the landscape almost seems to be portraying an upcoming storm. The giant girl however is totally unaffected by the upcoming storm, she is too busy oogling her body/ weird panties. Here is an example of that narcissistic contemplation Zwirner wrote about in his review. The girls in Yuskavage'a paintings always seem too busy to notice anything because they are too busy studying themselves. There are a few exceptions when: 1. The girls are looking at the viewer, and  2. They are looking at each others. 
As for the theme and style of this painting, I give it a 5 out of 5. The whole image would suggest that this is a coming of age image. Even though to me it looks like there is a storm coming, the soft pinks and yellows suggest sun setting and the flowers on the girl's feet could symbol virginity and her womanhood. Meaning that the image is almost like a good-bye to her innocent (or maybe it's not innocent at all) childhood. Well it depends on how you wanna interpret this painting. But you have to admit, it is a brilliant painting. It is beautiful to look at, and I imagine many critics (and viewers) have had a lot of fun trying to crack this painting open. There are a few directions you can take whilst looking at 'Half family'. First of all, the viewer has to decide whether they can actually look upon this painting at all. There is a part of me that wants to shy away from Yuskavage's paintings because they are so naughty. As much as I love this painting, I would hide it from my parents when ever they'd come to visit me. Normally I wouldn't do that, but this time, it's different. My parents' view on this painting would be totally different from my view, and I know they'd judge me for wanting to put something like this on my wall. In 'Half family' I see an adopted girl, who came to live with her relatives after her parents passed away. Now she is slowly coming of age and is very curious about herself. Her relatives, of course, don't approve of her new found sexuality and the way she experiments with it. She is the naughty, promiscuous niece or cousin who can't be stopped. Which probably is why she chooses to act out her promiscuity, because she knows it annoyes her caregivers and because she knows that they dislike her for being that way. And that suits her just fine because she doesn't care, it's too much fun for her this way. This is what 'Half family' looks like to me, but I know my parents would most likely label this as porn, and give me a long lecture about how inappropriate the painting is and why I'm so naughty for wanting to put it up on my wall. (>=)). I adore the romantic colour scale, and the girl is exceptionally well painted! It has been a while since I have seen a contemporary artist who can paint this well. Yuskavage has recieved many thanks for her ability to paint like the Old Masters. She says she went through a lot to learn to paint Fine Art 'properly' and I can't see anyone who could paint as well as Yuskavage (except maybe Royo). I think that there are actually two parts to this painting, there's the real girl and then there is the fantasy girl in a romantic landscape. It depends on which one you want to focus on. Even though I can appreciate the image as a whole,and to me she seems more like a fantasy than reality, I can't get over the fact that her panties are way to small for her! I mean they are squeezing the living daylight out of her bum. Girl, your balloon/candy panties are awesome, but you have outgrown them!

Teresa and Lauren 2008
There seems to be a constant play between the characters in Yuskavage's paintings. It's kinda like a dialogue of 'Look at me, now don't look at me but if you look at me I'm going to look back at you'. Yuskavage has this to say about her girls: "If you stare at me, I'm going to stare back, but at the same time if you stare at me I'm going to disapear. But I'm also going to assert myself and make you feel really uncomfortable". And about her method she says "I'm constantly playing with who's the top and who's the bottom in the painting". Oh, Yuskavage quotes her work beautifully! She knows her work so well and she knows what her work is trying to say and why. I personally totally get what she is saying with that top/bottom remark. It's not just about the girls in the paintings playing with the viewer, it's reality. I don't know about you, but I sometimes have a moment of insecurity and I'm not quite sure whether I want boys to look at me or not. (and why not girls too. Girls look at me regardless, and especially in summer they give me really nasty looks. What?! I workout, I don't eat junk food, I'm slim, so no need to look so sour! I work hard to keep my figure!). I'm such a dizzy person anyway that I wouldn't notice if a bunch of boys walked after my heels, drooling all the way. But then there are those special occasions when I want boys to look at me, and then it's power play. "I'm going to stare back at you if you stare at me". And then there are those times, when I get insecure and the game changes and I'm no longer on the top. I digress. I'm just saying that I understand what Yuskavage's work is trying to say. There is something very human about the characters in Yuskavage's paintings, whether you choose to acknowledge it or not. "Teresa and Lauren" is a great example of this look-at-me-don't-look-at-me dialogue. Unlike some of her other paintings, this does not feauture any nature. Unless you want to read the green colour is a symbol of nature (which I don't). I however find this colour choice very similar to Salvador Dali's 'Soldier take warning'. Did Yuskavage use all green in "Teresa and Lauren" on purpose or was it something she just prefered? Because if this is a some kind of ode to Dali's painting then I can't help but chuckle (*chuckle*), because Dali's painting is a warning to soldiers not to sleep with prostitutes because they carry sexually transmitted diseases. So are we to assume that Teresa and Lauren have venereal disease? I guess that's up to you to decide. To me, they both look a little too inviting. But on second thought, I think I'll just go with my first idea and say that these two are just having a sleepover. Notice how Yuskavage pictures her girls, full, voluptuous breasts and bums. Or small breasts and voluptuous bums. Love it or hate it, it looks interesting.

Piggyback Ride 2008
 In her earlier series 'Bad Babies' Yuskavage's goal was to speak about shame and the inability to hide it. I think that's what Yuskavage's more tender and innocent paintings are about. 'Piggyback Ride' fits in to this category. Even though the naked girl in this painting doesn't seem to be ashamed of nakedness, whilst her friend is fully clothed, it does speak about that innocence of feminity that dominates some of Yuskavage's paintings. In a way 'Piggyback Ride' has a kind of fairytale-esque thing going on. Fairytales are all about linking the hero/heroine to nature, and to me, 'Piggyback Ride' looks a little Cinderella-ish. I reviewed Yuskavage the first time couple years ago when I was studying fairytales and creating my own fairytales (ah Rose Soldier, we have many adventures ahead of us, nee). After two years, this paintings still looks like a girl hitting puperty. She is somewhere in between her old, childish self and a new self that has began to understand her body and sexuality (which evidently happened to Cinderella). She wants to be seen differently from now on and she actually wants to show off her growing body. In my class, most girls started to wear tight pants and shirts to show off their growing tits and round asses to attract attention. And this happened when we were 11 or 12. But for some girls, it's embarrassing too. I'll tell you secret, I was dizzy until the end. I didn't wear tight pants and shirts when I was 12, that part of puberty hit me when I was about 14. 'Piggyback Ride' shows us that these two girls are in very different places, the naked one is alright with her body whilst the girl behind her is more modest and perhaps will never be one of those girls I just described. Rather than being exposed she represents the more traditional female image, body covered from gazes. To me, this painting is a manifestation of the two sides of the virginal female character in Fairytales.

I have to talk about the nature in Yuskavage's paintings. Nature and forests are especially close to my heart because I grew up in Finland, and our land is pretty much like a big forest. Yuskavage does a good job in mixing erotica and nature, and she paints landscapes really well too. In fairytales, nature is a huge factor in the stories for it is usually treated as a set, but it also gives vast amounts of sybolism for the stories. 'Piggyback Ride' takes place in a lake scenery where we have two girls, one of them is dressed, one of them is not. It is so cute how they have formed a link with their arms. The brunette has her right arm around the blonde's neck and her left hand is on her waist, holding the blonde's right hand. Because of the warm skin tones, I didn't see the link at first, but looking at it closer, together they are forming like a link or a protective space, if you will. The nakedness of the blonde girl combined with the scenery reminds me of primitive times when people were more united with nature (I'm thinking about Disney's Pocahontas now..). Now we have enstranged ourselves from nature because we don't need to fend ourselves constantly anymore. Of course there comes a time when nature strikes hard, but I'm saying that because some of us are living comfortable lives, we don't have to be worried about how to get food if winter comes early this year, or if there is a pack of wolves on the move. But perhaps this seems too primitive. What I'm trying to say is that every single Yuskavage painting that features both girls and nature, has a distinct link between them. In 'Piggyback Ride' that link seems to be puberty, nature is always there whether we like it or not. It's our nature to grow because that's what all nature's 'products' do. And in this case, the colours are nearly melancholic, because Yuskavage's intention is to make the viewer sad for the girl who's about to go through puperty. Again, there is a setting sun and after that, a new era begins. I don't like the colours in this painting, as much as I liked them in 'Half family', but once again this is exceptionally well executed. Personally I think Yuskavage's nature-and-girls paintings are much more beautiful and interesting than for example the 'Pie face' paintings. It's much more interesting to see girls posing obscenely in the hills than see portraits of them with their faces full of custard.

Walking the dog 2009
"Something usually sexualizes you. You may not even remember what it was - it can be a single comment." I think the girls in the rest of her paintings are promiscuous for the sake of being promiscuous (and nasty). They are depictions of the woman-child, of a girl who became aware of her sexuality, perhaps too young, and is now taking full advantage of it. In my mind, the girls in Yuskavage's "naughty" paintings are those girls who showed the guy who shouted "show me your tits!" their tits. I haven't done that myself, but I understand that one wants to be naughty for naughtiness' sake. I think there is really something to Yuskavage's vision of the woman-child. Personally I'm not quite sure whether the woman-child is a young girl like Lolita, who became a woman a very young age and is taking full advantage of her youth and promiscuity? Or is the woman-child a woman who has a somewhat child-like body and still has that innocent state of mind only children have?
For me, Yuskavage's paintings seem more obscene than for example some of the obscenest pieces of Luis Royo (and he has done some pretty obscene drawings!). The bashful side of me wouldn't put these up on my wall. But then again, the part of me that likes all things sexy, totally would. Seeing girls so fetishized and objectified would make anyone frown. However, it's not all that. I personally don't feel that Yuskavage's pieces are porn or Playboy images like many have suggested. I like to think that there is more to her images than 'titillation', shocking people for shockings sake. And painting obscene sex-like scenes because sex sells. Sex is just the cover, there's actually a lot of symbolism tucked in between the cheeks of Yuskavage's girls (if you want to think it like that). There is a part of me that would feel coy and ashamed if I went to see these in a gallery. But then the rest of me would just say that these are interesting paintings, they are sexy and exceptionally well painted, that there has to be more than just tits and pussies to them. One critic said that "to have the whole Yuskavage thing wrapped up in a package of high end gallery with critical imprimatur is what felt awkward and strange." Yuskavage had this to say "that was precisely the feeling I was going for". In the end, just like with Jasper Goodall and Luis Royo, it's up to you to decide what to make of 'the Yuskavage experience'. Me, I like it a lot.

I hope you enjoyed me review on Lisa Yuskavage, this was a juicy one indeed. Next month I'll give you my last book review for now. I know I said that I'd do 5, but I'll be really busy in December + December is already winter, and the book thing was just for autumn, for now.

Thanks for reading and see you next month!


sunnuntai 14. lokakuuta 2012

Autumn book club: Män som hatar kvinnor (The girl with the dragon tattoo).

Hi guise!

It's October, my birthday month! xD Time sure flies by. Another year and none the wiser.
My BFF is taking me to watch ballet =D I haven't been to ballet for 10 years O_o I was a wee ballerina, once upon a time. I got to dance on the pointe shoes for about 3 years and wear a tutu to performances ^_^ I live next to a prestigious school, and my dance company held all their performances there (their big hall has a balcony view too!). Every winter and spring we'd perform at the school. Sometimes I'd perform twice a day because I was doing ballet and modern dance. I get very nostalgic and little sad everytime I see ballerinas on the school yard. They remind me of how much I enjoyed dancing in front of an audience. Too bad I wasn't much of a ballerina. Doing the routine practices in class was a bit difficult for me because I wasn't big on concentrating. Unless you are really into ballet, doing the same routines day after day gets boring really quickly (have you seen Black Swan? Ballet practices are like the ones Aronofsky showed in the beginning of Black Swan. That's literally almost all we did in ballet class). By the time I got my pointe shoes, I wasn't so bored anymore because the routines had gotten much tougher. Two years later my long time teacher left my group and we got a new teacher. I had a big 'falling out' with her because she wanted to do a sort of a Hungarian folk dance for our next big performance, and I felt so wronged by her decision that I quit ballet then and there. I had been practicing on pointe shoes for over 3 years, so I thought I (and my fellow ballerinas) deserved to dance real ballet.

I so want to start practicing ballet again *sigh* only if I had the time and money to do that. However, I'd make sure to join a ballet/dance company that performs to a real audience at least once a year =) We are going to go see Manon on my birthday btw. 

On with October's book review. First of all, 'The girl with the dragon tattoo' ought to be one of the stupidest translations ever! The correct translation is 'Men who hate women'. See, isn't that much more powerful than lame 'girl with the dragon tattoo'. So what? Quite frankly, I'm not nearly as interested in the girl who has a dragon tattoo, I'm far more interested in the men who hate women. Why do they hate women? Do they literally hate women, or is it a chauvinist thing, something they talk about at their chauvinist mens club? If they literally hate women, do they mean all women, or are they particular? And most importantly, what happens to these women they meet?

I had seen The girl who played with fire trailer in Finland, but I wasn't the least bit interested because it was in Swedish. To be honest I can't remember why I decided to read Män som hatar kvinnor by Stieg Larsson in the first place. Probably because the international reviews were raving about the story, and the movie was about the hit cinemas in Australia. I was living in Adelaide at the time so I decided to read the book and then check out the movie. Let me stress out that the movie WAS NOT the stupid hollywood version with Daniel Craig --_-- It was the original Swedish movie with Noomi Rapace. Anyway, 'Män som hatar kvinnor' (I still wonder what ever possessed the translator to come up with such a lame title for the English translation!?) is the first book in the Millenium trilogy. Followed by 'Flickan som lekte med elden' and my personal favourite title, 'Luftslottet som sprängdes' (the castle of air that collapsed. Very figurative title ^_^). The English title for the latter, isn't half bad either, it's rather clever actually. However in this review I'm going to talk about the men who hate women. 
I read this book two years ago, so I can't remember all the details. So I'll just tell you all the details I can remember okay. 

The story opens with Henrik Vanger, he is retired but wealthy CEO of the Vanger Corporation. Thirty-six years ago, his great-niece Harriet went missing. For his birthday Harriet always gave him a pressed flower in frames. When she dissapeared Henrik never saw another flower for decades, until one day he got one delivered to him. After that flower, he started receiving flowers every year on his birthday. The newest flower would be number forty-four. Henrik was always convinced that Harriet was murdered by a family member, even though no one was really a suspect. Which leads Henrik to believe that the murderer is now daunting him by giving him flowers Harriet used to give him. So Henrik proceeds to hire Mikael Blomkvist, a publisher of a political magazine called Millenium. Henrik vaguely knows Mikael because Harriet used to be his babysitter and Henrik has been following Mikael's career for years.

I think this prologue is pretty interesting and well written, but too bad it reveals how the story is going to end --_-- I knew that Harriet was alive because of the new flowers. Quite frankly it seems kinda stupid that the murderer would wait for over 30 years until he'd start daunting Henrik. So it doesn't takea a genious to realize that she is sending hidden 'I am OK'  messages to Henrik. It would have been much more cruel if the murderer had actually killed Harriet and now he's really daunting Henrik with her murder. However then again, I find the ending a little more satisfying because Harriet survived. Considering the crimes in this book, it's very nice of Larsson to let Harriet live. Otherwise this would have been a really depressing story.

Our male lead Michael has just lost a defamation case against billionaire industrialist Hans-Erik Wennerström. He is sentenced to three months in prison, and ordered to pay hefty damages and costs. Michael decides to leave 'Millenium' so the magazine and the staff won't have to suffer too much from his bad publicity. Soon after he 'leaves' "Millenium", he is invited to meet Henrik Vanger. Henrik tells Michael about Harriet and asks him to investigate her dissapearance. In return Henrik promises Michael financial reward (big big money) and solid evidence against Wennerström. In order to disguise their investigations for Harriet they say that Michael is writting the Vanger family history. Which would also explain why Michael moves in to a small cabin on Hedeby island (owned by Henrik). Harriet dissapeared precisely on Hedeby island.

Which brings us to our heroine, and may I say, one of the most interesting female heroines in the 21st century literature, Lisbeth Salander. Before Henrik hired Michael, he had his lawyer hire the Milton Security to research Michael's background. Lisbeth carried out the inspection. She works as a surveillance agent with Milton Security, but on the side, she is one heck of a hacker. I find Lisbeth interesting. Sure she is disturbed, anti-social and egoistic, and she is also damn unpredictable (which makes her much more fun!). You never know what she'll do next. Hence she is the exact opposite of all the female heroines we have seen so far. I have to mention her clothing style, it's gothic, yet it borrows a little from punk-rock. And to make sure that Lisbeth was not traditional, Larsson made her hate men, like really hate men. A heroine of the 21st century who is not at all interested in men. This was like a breeze of fresh air for me. Finally, we have an independent heroine whose life does not revolve around her complicated relantionships with men --_-- Personally I think Lisbeth is a pretty awesome idea (note: idea) of the modern woman. Yes she is a disturbed young woman who hates men, her choise of career is slightly vague (that Milton stuff is legal, it's just the hacking that is still criminal I take) but she is also very compasionate and very smart. I'm not saying we should all be Lisbeths, I'm saying that her characteristics are something we should take a note of. We learn more about Lisbeth's gentle side as the story proceeds, but in the mean time, she is really tough. (Although the second "Millenium" book is like an odé to Lisbeth's genius. Larsson keeps writing about how brilliant and smart and strong Lisbeth is that it get's really old really quickly. Larsson needlessly added more water to the mill). 

Whilst Michael investigates on Hedeby island, Lisbeth meets with her new legal guardian Nils Bjurman. Her most trusted guardian Holger Palmgren had suffered a massive stroke (he had the stroke in his apartment, and Lisbeth got there just in time to save him) and Nils was named her new guardian. During their second meeting, Lisbeth asks to claim money from her bank account to buy a new Mac laptop. Taking advantage of his position Nils forces Lisbeth to give him a blowjob in exchange for a small amount of money. Nils actually can sentence Lisbeth back in to institution. Later Lisbeth goes to Nils' house to claim more money, and he anally rapes her (not an easy read, nor easy to watch). However, on the third time, Lisbeth gets her revenge. YAY! She shows him her rape on video, which she recorded with a hidden camera in her backpack. Threatening to ruin him, Nils agrees to write praysing reports of her to his superiors and she'll gain full control of her finances. To get her message across she brands him with a tattoo that says 'I AM A SADISTIC PIG, A PERVERT, AND A RAPIST'. Finally she says that she will keep a track on his movements, and if he ever even considers having that tattoo removed, she'll kill him.

I personally don't think it's a good idea to go to a strange man's house just so one can get really revealing evidence of the man's criminal acts. Nor do I think it's a good idea to go back there with a taser and torture them after they wake up. This sounds really like heroic and romantic and escpecially the revenge part is awesome, but in reality Lisbeth puts herself in to a dangerous position just to get evidence. Sure that evidence can put a man behind bars, not to mention this evidence will set her free in book 3, but I wouldn't recommend this kind of behavior to anyone. However if you are willing to read between the lines, Lisbeth comes across as a real go-getter. She knows what she want and she knows how to get it. Not to mention it was rather...ahem brave to go personally into the battlefield to get the evidence she knows will grand her her freedom (perhaps she knew that that evidence would be useful in the future too). She is clearly a planner and can see the big picture even if the picture doesn't excist in full yet. I mean Lisbeth has traits which every woman (and every man too, why not) should posses: determination, spontaneity and wits. 

 Mean while Michael has been hard at work trying to discover what happened to Harriet. On the day of her dissapearance, the whole Vanger family was gathered on Hedeby island to celebrate. Only one bridge connects Hedeby to the mainland and on that day, there was an accident on the bridge. It took hours before anyone could access or leave the island. Yet during the accident Harriet dissapeared. Last time anyone saw her was when she was looking out the window of her cousin's room in the mainhouse (I think that's how it went). 
Michael investigations are quite fascinating to read. He literally starts from scratch so it leaves the reader wondering how the hell he is going to crack this case. By interviewing the family members who live on the island, Michael discoveres more about what happened on that day. Harriet's brother Martin lives on the island too and even though he isn't much of a help (as I recall) the two men get a long really well. In Martin's and Harriet's father's cabin, Michael finds Harriet's journal and a bible. Their father Gottfried was Henrik's brother who accidentally drowned whilst drunk. Michael reads Harriet's bible and finds a lot of bible and religious writings, and three names and two initials, follewed by serial numbers. It takes Michael quite a while to discover the meaning of those names and numbers. His daughter clears up the meaning when she tells him that he should continue his bible studies. Hence Michael finds out that the 5 women are linked to the bible. The serial numbers are passages that encourage the reader to kill the women who they know have slept with an animal for example. And these names date back to the 1940's. So Harriet had discovered that someone had been systematically killing women since the 1940's? But it takes a long time before we get to this bit.

After this Larsson introduces a little humour to the story when Michael goes to Lisbeth's to ask for her help. Henrik's lawyer reveals that they had him invested. Michael asks to see the report, and once he discovers that Lisbeth not only hacked to his computer but is clearly very smart, he asks to hire her to assist him in the case. It was soooo funny to read how Lisbeth discovers Michael at her door one morning xD What Lisbeth does next is actually really humane, she panics and steps back. I mean she just completed a research on this guy and of course she never expected to meet him, but now he his in her apartment. What really moved me was how considerate Michael was to bring breakfast, he even brought a vegetarian alternative!! I mean how often do people regard us vegetarians? Actually I should ask how often do strangers regard vegetarians? Michael knows nothing about Lisbeth, yet he is smart enough to acknowledge that her food preferences may not be meat biased. Oh, I find that so touching! ^_^ (FYI Lisbeth goes for the beef bagel). Michael 'hires' Lisbeth and she goes to Hedeby island with him.

This book has over 300 pages, so naturally the events in the beginning overlap. Plus as Michael and Lisbeth get together, it takes a long time for them to learn anything really important.  Mostly they just go after clues and try to figure out what the hell happened to Harriet. They even have time to sleep together, and at one point Lisbeth finds herself in love with Michael. Personally I don't see why. He isn't even that cleaver, as a matter of fact, as characters go, Michael is flat and uninteresting. Don't know why all the men in Larsson's books are either pedophile-and-rapist-murderers or flat nobodies. Why is that?
Even though it might (I say might) get a little boring, I think Larsson describes their detective work realistically. I mean, it's not like they can actually find a new important clue every day. Or suddenly realize what happened to Harriet without doing any research. And it's not like Michael can go "I got it! It must be this-and-this" every time they find a new piece of evidence. After all they have so many puzzle pieces to deal with that I'm not sure if this crime was actually solvable if this was reality. I know that it's just a story, but based on Larsson's writing style I'd say this book intents to be realistic. After all Lisbeth is based on a real person (if you choose to believe it that is) and all the events seem realistic enough. It's jus how Lisbeth and Michael unravel the case confuses me a little. It just seems so unlikely that they would be able to solve the case because what they case really is, is a little baffling.

On Hedeby island Lisbeth and Michael began trace the women mentioned in Harriet's diary. They go to the locations where they were killed and-or found. They are able interview one of the victim's spouses and Michael and Lisbeth discover that they are on the trail of a serial killer who has been killing women for decades using the bible as reference.

Personally I find it a little unconvincing that Michael would actually have someone in his circle of friends and/or family who knows the bible really well. And even if there was someone, what are the odds that it's someone really close to him and not some distant relative he never sees? This plot point is just so over used and Larsson should have known that too. I actually hate the idea that it's always someone really close to the detective who gives them the most important clue. The plot has to move on somehow so I suppose this is the writer's best bet, but in reality, I bet there would be no one to provide Michael that bible clue. I have read many books and watched so many movies and tv-series that I guessed quickly that the numbers were most likely from the bible. Seriously. Trust me, if you have a set of numbers that you don't know what they are, they're most likely from the bible. This is how it always goes right? But really, if you had a clue that contained medical science stuff for example, and you didn't know it, would there be someone you know who would see your research by accident and say "Oh hey that's this-and-that's formula. Why are you studying it?". I bet your answer is 'no'. Mine is.

 And this next bit annoys me too. They look for old photographs that could reveal more about the day's festival and the accident on the bridge. When looking the photographs, Michael becomes sure that the murderer was at the parade because Harriet looks startled in one of the photos. The murderer is supposedly in front of Harriet, but on the other side of the street. In the photo there is also a couple behind Harriet, taking pictures of the spot the murderer supposedly is. Hence Michael tracks down the couple and asks to see their pictures of the festival. Unfortunately the photo is blurry and he can't make out the person Harriet is looking at. It seems a little far fetched that Michael would actually track down an old couple from 30 years ago with a single photograph. Of course it brings drama and makes the reader wonder if the case is ever going to get solved. However I don't think it's that easy to track down people one saw in a photograph from 40 years ago. As I recall Michael saw the couple's car's licence plate and like so was able to track them down.That doesn't seem too realistic to me. I suppose it can be done, very unlikely though.

The story is about to reach it's climax now. I don't remember how he did it, but Michael discovers that it was Martin who killed Harriet. Michael goes to surprise Martin at his house, but Martin has been expecting him and he attacks Michael and takes him prisoner. Mean while Lisbeth has discovered that it was Martin's and Harriet's father Gottfried who was behind all the murders starting from the 1940's and after he died Martin continued the killings. Lets just say it made me physically ill to read Martin brag about all the women he had killed and how amazing it made him feel. I don't know about Sweden, but Finland is a pretty safe place to live. People sometimes refere Finland as ''The Moominvalley'' because nothing bad ever happenes here. Well..until recently, about 5-6 years ago, bad things started to happen here too. So it's always a grim reminder that people like Martin and his father excist in this world. I did not enjoy reading about Martin and his 'conquests'. Michael asks Martin why he killed Harriet. Martin gets mad and asks Michael what he and Salander have found out, because he did not kill Harriet. He wanted to, but she vanished before he could get to the island. Apparently Gottfried and Martin tried to pursue Harrit to accept their 'life style', but she refused. Once their father died, Martin tried to keep Harriet from telling anyone about their murderous and incestuous past, but he got suspicious and decided to kill her. But luckily Harriet got away in time. In the basement Martin is just about to kill Michael when Lisbeth bursts in, kicks Martin's ass and frees Michael. But Martin escapes. Lisbeth drives after him on her motorcycle. Martin drives straight in to a truck and dies in the crash. In the movie, Martin's death is much more satisfying. He is stuck in his car, and Lisbeth watches him burn alive. For me, that was much better than just read about the bastard die in a car crash --__-- 

But what I don't understand is, why did Lisbeth conceal most of Martin's killings. She order's Michael not to alert the police and in secrecy destroyes some of the documented evidence of Martin's murders, in cluding his laptop. WHY!? This I don't understand, why she did that?! She later tells Henrik's lawyer everything about Martin and Gottfried and what happened to Michael and about the basement in Martin's house. She tells him, he can decide what to tell the authorities if he chooses to contact them, as long as he leaves Lisbeth and Michael out of it.

 So Lisbeth and Michael found out that Gottfried killed women for over 2 decades and molested his son. He even taught his son to rape and murder women and tried to do the same to his daughter. If you are like me and tend to empathize with what you read or see, you may be as upset about this as I am. And I don't mean I'm upset about Martin's past, I'm upset about what he did. Lisbet has a great quote in the book: 
"Martin had exactly the same opportunity as anyone else to strike back. He killed and he raped because he liked doing it." and "”Bullshit,” Salander said again. “Gottfried isn’t the only kid who was ever mistreated. That doesn’t give him the right to murder women. He made that choice himself. And the same is true of Martin." I agree with Lisbeth 100%. If everyone who had a terrible childhood started systematically killing people, I bet there would't be many of us left! I believe that we all make our own decisions. It has little to do with your parents or your upbringing. In the end, once you start thinking for yourself, it's all up to you to decide whether you want to do some things or not. Harriet was brought to believe that raping and killing women was the right thing to do. But she chose to disregard that way of living and choose a different belief for herself. I personally don't feel sorry for people who blame their parent's or upbringing or life style for their sad way of excistance. This may seem cold and heartless, but I don't see why I should feel sorry for someone who for.ex cries about being fat because their parents are fat. Even if your parent's are obese, that doesn't mean you have to be obese too. Martin chose to accept his father's belief (like Lisbeth said, he enjoyed) but Harriet didn't. It's not that complicated. And If Lisbeth can survive a harsh childhood and even harsher adolescence
so can anyone. Lisbeth turned out really well. Besides, when she was a child she revenged the hardships she and her mother went through under her father, by setting him on fire. That's quite a story, for book 2.

Now we know that Harriet is alive. And through her cousin in England, they discover that she smuggled Harriet out of Hedeby after the accident on the bridge. It turned out that it wasn't Harriet looking out the window, it was the cousin. They looked almost identical, so the cousin saved her and gave her her passport. So Harriet fled the country and is now living in Australia. Michael flies there and meets Harriet, and we finally learn why Harriet chose to dissapear. Her father had repeatedly raped and abused her for a long time. Until one day she was strong enough to try to escape him and she accidentally kills him with an oar. He was climbing on her escape boat when she hit him in self-defense. Unfortunately Martin was there to see everything so he began to blackmail and sexually abuse her. But then he was sent away to boarding school and Harriet was left in peace for the longgest time. She told her cousin all about the rapes and abuse and started investigating the other women her father and Martin had murdered. On the festival day Martin coma back and Harriet asked her cousin to smuggle her out of Sweden. And thus she was finally free of her fucked up family.
Michael tells Harriet that Martin is dead and asks her to return to Sweden and to her great-uncle. It's a happy ending and Henrik plans to make her the CEO of the Vanger Corporation. 

As promised Henrik gives Michael evidence against Wennerström. I can't remember why, but the evidence turns out to be useless. Luckily Lisbeth, being in love with Michael, has already hacked Wennerström's computer and has discovered all his other crimes that Michael didn't know about. Using Lisbeth's evidence, Michael writes an exposé book which ruins Wennerström and makes Millenium famous. And Lisbeth being Lisbeth steals more than 2.4 billion Euros from Wennerström's secret bank account, making her Ford magazines 11th most richest fictional character.

All's well ends well. Except for all those women those bastards killed. However Larsson just had to write a second book right? So at the end of this book, Lisbeth goes to Michael's house to give him a present, when she sees him with his fuckbuddy and business partner Erika. Heartbroken Lisbeth swears off Michael and leaves the country.

I realize that I have done what Larsson did in the second book, praise Lisbeth to heaven and beyond. But she really is an amazing character. It's just too bad Larsson had to turn her into some sort of a superhero in the second book. A tiny girl smacks around big men and she is terribly smart and wise and awesome and this and that. It's a shame the second book turned out to be such a let down. Only the ending was awesome! The book looses a lot of credibility mainly because Larsson had such a boner for Lisbeth that he clearly didn't see that he was making her and the story laughable. However that's the second book's problem

This book however was really good. If you are willing to over look the few major flaws it is an interesting story. I especially liked those parts where Michael and Lisbeth went for the clues and tried to put the pieces together. The characters in the story think and function quite realistically, a big thanks to Larsson for that (Larsson died few years ago). And the outcome really took me by surprise. It was really insightful to make the crime (Harriet's murder) look like it happened just that one time, when in reality there was a chain of crimes. Larsson's writing style was unique and he clearly knew how to write realistically and how to make Lisbeth (only Lisbeth) so genuine. Well the other characters are genuine too, but too bad Larsson didn't spend as much time perfecting their characteristics because they could have been as awesome as Lisbeth (well almost as awesome). Now they are outstaged by her. I'm not a professional critic, but to me it shows real talent when a writer can make all, or at least most, of their characters as interesting as the main characters. It's like an urban legend that a writer only needs a Sherlock Holmes and a Moriarty, but I believe the 21st century literature needs more than 2 interesting characters per story. Millenium trilogy is a Lisbeth show so thank goodness Lisbeth is strong enough to hold the trilogy on her own. 

 Now that you have read the book, go watch the movie (the Swedish one, duh!).
Hope you found this review interesting. Stay tuned for October's artist review.