This month I didn’t manage to read as much as I’d liked, due to a looming dissertation deadline (I am writing this a bit late, and have since finished — hooray!) I did manage to get through two Tove Jansson books though, using them as lovely Finnish escapism from the pressures of academia.
A Winter Book by Tove Jansson ★★★☆☆
Reading Tove Jansson’s writing makes me want to be a writer. When I read her prose I can tell how much her childhood, being around her artist parents, and adventures on the Finnish archipelago affected her. This book is a lot of beautiful and simple short stories. My favourite was The Squirrel, towards the end of the book. It features a writer living temporarily on an island by herself, and her peace (?) is disturbed when a squirrel drifts onto the island and seeks shelter there. I thought Jansson conveyed the anxieties of isolation and the rituals it produced really well. The protagonist of this story reminded me of the neurotic Fillyjonk character from the Moomin tales!
Moominpappa at Sea by Tove Jansson ★★★★☆
This Moomin book surprised me! This year I am aiming to read all the Moomin books I
haven’t read yet, and this was first up on my list. I expected it to be lighthearted, like Moominsummer Madness, but it definitely had a deeper, darker tone,
which reflected on themes of (again) isolation – both physical and emotional. Tove really likes writing about lonely islands! It was interesting reading about how the different characters’ neuroses affect them as their time on the island wears on – Moominpappa becomes absorbed in his work, Moominmamma uses painting and gardening as escapism and longing for home, and Moomin tries to make a nest in the undergrowth of the island. Jansson’s stories, even though they are written for children, often have a melancholy undertone.
Moominpappa at Sea also features The Groke, a gigantic creature who has been described as the “personification of Nordic gloom”. I really like her though – everybody is afraid of her because she freezes everything she touches, but she isn’t malicious; she just wants to be warm. At one point she does a dance for Moomintroll which I found really amusing, and the part near the beginning where she “flies” across the sea by freezing it was a really beautiful and strange idea.
(A review I wrote in September 2015)
Tove Jansson is mainly known for being the creator of the Moomin series, but as well as writing and illustrating children’s fiction and comics, she also wrote fiction for adults. The two of her novels that I have now read – The Summer Book and The True Deceiver – have both proved to be brilliant self-contained books, with less whimsy and more of the pronounced philosophical edge that Moomin only touches on.
I really didn’t expect to like this book as much as I did, or as much as other Tove Jansson I’ve read. But I did! It was very beautiful and funny and really enveloped me in the little world on the island, which is what good books should do. I think The Summer Book gives the same sort of escapism as the Moomin books (so I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys these); the isolation from the rest of society and the self-sufficiency that is somehow whimsical…but this book has more of a realism to it, of course.
I especially liked the chapter about the cats. Describing the animal’s personalities and Sophia’s frustrations with them was really funny and I related to it lots. I think Jansson is great at characterisation; the bluntness of Grandmother and the fleeting dramatic crises of Sophia are so real and I love how the characters bounce off each other. She is brilliant at writing the complexities of relationships.
The setting and it’s description is beautiful…there is something about islands that I will always be interested in. Jansson keeps up the description of the weather and wind constantly, but it is not boring; it seems important to the story, maybe because the characters’ lives are so entwined with the surrounding area and nature. The chapter with the storm was definitely the climax of the book, so atmospheric…
It is another book I have read recently describing summer, and it coming to an end (having recently finished Goodbye Tsugumi.) The ending seemed poignant and sad though it doesn’t have to be. Packing things up, anxiously trying not to forget anything, being prepared. But for what? She stays outside and watches the sea… I think the ending was beautiful and melancholy but maybe hopeful. It’s that strange kind of poignancy where you can’t tell whether it’s sad or not. I get that feeling when I go to the beach. Like time is running out and I must appreciate everything in that moment..and the enormity of everything in comparison to you and your life. Maybe The Summer Book is about time and endings as much as life.