A Winter Book: Selected Stories by Tove Jansson
6 journalers for this copy...
A woman lives alone on an island. One day, she is surprised to see a fellow resident: "it was a real live squirrel and she hadn't seen a living thing for a long time. You can't count gulls; they're always leaving; they're like wind over waves and grass." The squirrel interrupts and accentuates her intense loneliness. She hides when a boat moors near the island and three fishermen leap ashore with their rods. Another day, feeling an intense need for human interaction, she screams into her radio, but no one answers. The squirrel breaks into the house and sits at her table, but she chases it out. Finally, the squirrel steals her boat and sails away. Entirely alone, unable to escape the island or reach the town to buy more provisions, she puts more wood on the fire, lights a lamp and sits down at the kitchen table to start writing.
Fans of Tove Jansson will recognise many of her obsessions in "The Squirrel", one of 20 stories collected in this short, brittle book: strange creatures with surprising powers, islands and small boats and the sea, loneliness and introspection, the vital influence of art and the imagination. In the rest of the stories, they'll also recognise many of the characters and locations that appear, disguised or undisguised, throughout her work for adults and children.
Jansson is still best known for the Moomin series of novels, stories and picture books, written for children, but Sort Of Books are trying to change that. A couple of years ago, they reprinted The Summer Book, a brilliant portrait of a six-year-old girl spending the summer on a remote Finnish island with her grandmother. It was rapturously reviewed by Ali Smith in these pages - and became a bestseller - which may be why the publishers have asked Smith to select and introduce the stories in A Winter Book. She's chosen 20 stories from five volumes. Several have been translated into English for the first time. The result is necessarily a bit of a jumble, lacking the coherence of The Summer Book, leaping from land to sea, city to island, childhood to old age, but it's an oddly satisfying jumble. (And, like all the books from this little publisher, it's beautifully produced, packed with crisp photos of Jansson and her parents, her partner, her island and the pet monkey who makes an appearance in one of the stories.)
Having trained as an artist and worked as a cartoonist, Jansson wrote her Moomin books in her 30s and 40s, and then started writing for adults in her 50s. Moominvalley became enormously popular around the world, spawning comic strips, cartoons, museums and all kinds of unlikely merchandising opportunities. The Moomins made so much money that Jansson could buy her own island, where she spent every summer, free from the attentions of Moomin obsessives. In one of these stories, Jansson simply transcribes some of the bewildering messages that she receives from crazy fans and greedy companies, each of them wanting to grab some part of her creation for themselves. "We look forward to your valued reply soonest concerning Moomin motifs on toilet paper in pastel shades"; "Can't you draw me a Snufkin that I can have tattooed on my arm as a symbol of freedom?"
The book ends perfectly with "Taking Leave", a short, melancholy and very beautiful picture of old age. Jansson died in 2001, aged 86, and it's easy to imagine her striding energetically across her island until her old bones refused to take another step. In the story, two old women - presumably modelled on Jansson and her partner, Tuulikki Pietilä - reach the infuriating realisation that they have grown too infirm to continue spending the summer on their isolated island. Worst of all, "something unforgivable happened: I became afraid of the sea". Fury is followed by acceptance. They decide to give their house away. They pack up, leaving notes for the next occupant, explaining where to find things and how stuff works, while making sure not to explain everything too clearly for the people who will come next: "one should not underestimate their natural curiosity." Other writers might have finished the story with a description of leaving the island or looking back for the last time from the boat that takes them to the mainland, but Jansson doesn't bother with any of that. Instead, she describes an old kite that they discover on their final day while clearing out the cellar and carry into the open air. The wind snatches the kite and takes it away, up into the sky, across the sea, out of sight.
I can't say I loved the whole book, but I did enjoy the atmosphere in most stories and the playful, even mischievous nature of Tove at different ages. It was intriguing to have a little glimpse to the life of a family of artists and living in the 30's and 40's. The pictures in the book are absolutely adorable and they make the stories even more real. What I most liked about the stories is the way they depict loneliness - how it is for good, how it is not something to escape but something to cherish and seek. Somehow the most lonely stories were also the most serene ones. Can't say what the reality is, but while reading the story of the geologist I couldn't help thinking that he must have been the model for Hemulen..
If you want to find out more about Klovharun island or Tove Jansson, go to www.moomin.com/tove
CONTROLLED RELEASE NOTES:
Hope you enjoy the stories!
Thanks for the labels.
Reserved for the ABC VBB that is was intended for a few years ago.
Thank you, booklady331, for this book.
CONTROLLED RELEASE NOTES:
Thank you tabby-cat-owner for sending the book!
Beautiful bookmark arrived with the book along with some calendar pages with nice quotes, comics, etc.
The stories I liked most:
Not a single story, but bits and parts of Part I titled Snow. It has a very autobiographical feel of when the author was a little girl. I can't say that one story stuck out for me more than the others but it was moments and feelings and the way she described things that was wonderful, and poignant, sometimes childlike, and lonely, and sad. Beautiful really.
In Part III Travelling Light I enjoyed reading:
Messages Not a traditional story. It is blurbs of messages she has received over the years from fans, friends, solicitors, etc. Even though they are other people's words, Jansson found a way to bring her voice out through them in the way she arranged them and what she chose to include or not include. They are hilarious and a bit scary!
Another 'story' that is not a traditional story. This time the entire story is comprised of letters from a single fan from Japan. You only see one side of the story, but it is obvious that Jansson wrote to the girl. It's interesting to read the love and devotion a fan can have for someone they admire. Jansson and other famous people have such a thin rope to tread.
CONTROLLED RELEASE NOTES:
Traveling with the Anthology Assortment Bookbox.
Am deciding if I want to keep it or not