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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Iben Mondrup

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To purchase Justine

Title: Justine
Author: Iben Mondrup
Genre: Novel
Written: 2012 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 218 pages
Original in: Danish
Availability: Justine - US
Justine - UK
Justine - Canada
  • Danish title: En to tre
  • Translated by Kerri A. Pierce

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Our Assessment:

B : fine young would-be artist tale

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Kirkus Reviews . 15/9/2016 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Mondrup depicts the sexism and grittiness of the art world and the ambivalence of the artists convincingly. (...) A dark, ultimately frustrating tale of an enfant terrible wannabe." - Kirkus Reviews

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Justine begins with the title figure returning to the small 40-square-meter house she inherited from her grandfather and finding it going up in flames. It's not literally true that: "A meteor has fallen" -- the cause is more mundane, an unhappy accident -- but in its devastating effect it feels that way. Indeed, Justine's world seems entirely meteor-smashed, as not only has all the art for the exhibit she's been working on been destroyed ("every last bit is burned"), along with the place she lives, but her girlfriend Vita has also just dumped her.
       The novel is presented in the first person, Justine relating both present-day and bits of her past. Her grandfather was a trained (building-)painter who also painted pictures, an almost-professional artist who seems to have been the strongest family figure in the younger Justine's life. He has passed away, and even before this latest catastrophe she still hadn't quite worked through that: "He died and it still isn't right. Not on the inside". As it turns out, Justine has a lot of inner turmoil -- in contrast to the more blunt, even caustic, way she presents herself to others.
       Justine eventually went to the academy of arts, and her account is also of that (continuing) struggle to become an artist, and to find an identity -- artistic and otherwise.
       A close friend is former classmate Ane, who recently had a baby, has a man who she apparently doesn't know cheats on her, and has fallen back on much more traditional, simpler, cheerier paintings -- even as she's drifting away from art, consumed by the demands of motherhood (and adulthood).
       Justine offers an amusing portrait of the art-school scene and crowd, and the different paths the graduates stumble along afterwards. Justine can be cold and harsh, but there's a wistfulness to some of her reminiscences and memories, such as when she recalls first being let loose in the academy's castle-rooms. She describes the process of settling in in the studio space:

     We flowed together. The whole studio flowed together. Things whirled around. They entered through doors and windows. Boxes, tables, chairs, more boxes, buckets, pots, jam jars, lamps, paints, stands. It wasn't too long before the janitorial staff could no longer tell the difference between what was trash and what was important.
       The solidarity -- the flowing together -- seems relatively short-lived, as Justine focuses more on what amount to clashes, with the ideal of art generally lost along the way.
       Mondrup captures the pretentious and often obnoxious (especially the professors) art-school-scene creepily well, with more the more old-fashioned grandfather-figure and the ultimately tamer, crowd-pleasing Ane as helpful counterparts to the purely pretentious, or, for example, the philosophical Vita (a fairly successful sculptor). Justine, meanwhile, is marked especially by her uncertainty. There's a lot of anger there, too, or frustration, and she vents successfully, and even comes up with some interesting ideas, including ultimately resuscitating her lost project, but for the most part, and for most of the novel, she is flailing.
       The personal disaster of the house burning down serves as a good backdrop, even as Mondrup doesn't rely on it too heavily. The bureaucratic process -- of determining cause and dealing with the consequences -- are a welcome, sober tie-in to real life for a character who seems pretty big on avoidance. Ane's transitions also serve as a helpful example of another life -- even as it is not one Justine can really imagine for herself, even as there are aspects of it, in its stability (and illusory stability), that appeal to her.
       Justine is really still at an early stage of figuring things out, and Mondrup leads her -- fortunately not too heavy-handedly -- a few more significant steps ahead here. Mondrup strikes the right tone for Justine, who tries to barrel ahead but can't completely hide her vulnerabilities.
       With the chapters divided into shorter episodes, switching between the present and various formative periods and events of her past. Justine is a solid slice-of-life portrait of the artist as a young woman.

- M.A.Orthofer, 6 January 2017

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Justine: Reviews: Iben Mondrup: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Danish artist and author Iben Mondrup was born in 1969.

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