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Part memoir, part fiction – always engrossing

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Sculptor’s Daughter by Tove Jansson

There are a few authors I seem to be returning to at the moment – the Strugatskys, Irene Nemirovsky and of course the wonderful Tove Jansson. I recently tracked down a reasonably priced copy of this, her first work of fiction for adults, and couldn’t resist picking it up (even though there are plenty of older books on Mount TBR…)

sculptor

“Sculptor’s Daughter” came out in 1968, by which time Jansson was a household name because of her creation of the Moomins. The book is a collection of short pieces firmly rooted in the world of a child; growing up in Finland, the girl inhabits her father’s studio, and an island near the sea, and the imaginative land that forms part of every child’s developing mind.

Is this fiction or autobiography? That’s often a hard question to answer as so many novelists use their lives in their work, but it’s particularly difficult in the case of Jansson where the parallels are so striking. The book is subtitled “A Childhood Memoir” and I think it’s best to read it as a fictionalised portrayal of Jansson’s childhood; because the stories here are not simply straightforward recollections. Instead, she gets inside the mind of a child, recreating the wonder and fear of the world around her, and the perceptions of things which are seen quite differently from the way an adult would.

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As with all of Tove Jansson’s work, this is a compelling read. She had a unique voice and viewpoint, and whatever she was writing about was very individually hers. There are vivid passages of adventures rowing out to sea, hiding from imagined dangers and the complex relationships between children, all of which will remain with me.

One of the strengths of the book is its portrait of Tove’s parents, the sculptor Viktor Jansson and the graphic designer/illustrator Signe Hammarsten-Jansson – let’s face it, it was inevitable Tove would be creative! Her parents come vividly to life through their daughter’s eyes, with their bohemian lifestyle and uncompromising way of living, and the book acts as a wonderful tribute to them.

Jansson went on to write many more adult works, several of which I’ve read, and with a lot of them there is a sense that again she was using her life in fiction. This is no criticism, because I love her stories; and it’s fascinating to see how she translated the people in her life into her work, even extending this into her Moomin stories (I assume that the Moomin family reflect her own, and certainly Too-Ticky was based on her life partner Tuulikki Pietilä). There’s always a lot more depth in Jansson’s writing that might appear at first, and her characters go through all sorts of vicissitudes, just like all of us in real life.

In some ways, it’s hard to review Tove Jansson’s work – I could just keep throwing out superlatives and saying how wonderful she is, and pinning down her brilliance is not easy. She’s a writer who gets to the essence of things, making you see the world anew which is a real achievement. And very fortunately, there are still works of hers I haven’t yet read!

More Moomin Mania!

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Moominsummer Madness by Tove Jansson

Tove_Jansson_1956

Since discovering the wonderful prose of Tove Jansson, I’ve been gradually making my way through her whimsical and wonderful Moomin books, reading them in the published order (which is now possible, thanks to Sort of books having brought out the first volume, “The Moomins and the Great Flood”, previously unavailable in English).Moominsummer.cov_The latest volume, “Moominsummer Madness”, is a strange one (well, they all are really!) and tells the story of yet another flood hitting the Moomins, this time flooding the Valley so that the poor family and their friends are reduced to sitting on top of the house, surrounded by water. Fortunately, a strange object floats by that will do as a substitute house – though it is in fact a theatre, complete with backdrops, curtains, and a hidden resident who laughs in a rather alarming way. A number of new characters are introduced; Moomintroll and the Snork Maiden get separated from their family; Little My falls overboard but is rescued by Snufkin who somehow ends up ‘adopting’ 24 small Woodies; Moominpappa writes a play for the theatre; and there are coincidences and confusion until all is resolved.

MOOMINSUMMER MADNESSIf I’m honest, Janssons’s Moomin books are a little, well, unusual. There is no namby-pamby political correctness, sanitised and bland characters, or pandering to the supposed frailties of childhood – instead, the creatures are grumpy, spiteful and downright unpleasant; and events are unsettling and often traumatic, though usually with some kind of acceptable resolution. There is a constant theme of separation, with characters frequently getting lost or abandoned; there is peril and the threat from other hostile creatures; and the Moomins and their friends are very vulnerable to the elements.

MOOMINSUMMER MADNESSThinking about it, though, these events could be seen as a useful way of teaching youngsters that life is not always straightforward and that they would be best off developing the ability to cope with changing situations. After all, Jansson lived through a century of much change and instability, and this seeps through into the tales of the Moomins.

MOOMINSUMMER MADNESSApart from looking for deeper meanings, the stories are just a fun read; the characters are appealing and funny, and Jansson’s illustrations are wonderful. Looking forward to reading the next volume! 🙂

Exploring the Depths of Human Nature

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Travelling Light by Tove Jansson

Short story writing is an art, there’s no mistaking that; and having read quite a lot of the genre in recent years, I do feel that stumbling upon the work of Tove Jansson has brought me to a master of the craft. It was repeated recommendations of other bloggers that pointed me in her direction, and as well as dipping into the Moomin stories, I’ve also been exploring her adult fiction. Last year I delighted in Fair Play and The Summer Book, and recently picked up Travelling Light as the ideal book to dip into while, you’ve guessed it, travelling!

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The book contains twelve pieces, varying in length, and each is a little gem. For me, the test of the strength of a collection of short works is how well they take on an individual identity and how strongly they remain in the memory. With some authors I’ve read recently, there’s been a tendency for the works to blend together a little, but not here; each story is a beautifully carved piece of fiction, strong enough to stand on its own.

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There’s “The Summer Child”, a strange and moving tale of a little boy sent to spend the summer by sea with another family, and the differences between them, their misunderstandings and the reaching of a kind of crisis; the title story, which proves just how impossible it is to detach oneself from the rest of humanity; “The Woman Who Borrowed Memories”, a powerful and chilling tale of greed and manipulation; and “The PE Teacher’s Death”, which highlights the superficiality and hypocrisy in everyday life.

The stories vary in length and some of the shortest pieces are the most effective. In particular, “A Foreign City” is a powerful tale of an older gentleman lost in a strange city, unable to speak the language and ending up staying the night with a mysterious stranger. The almost Kafkaesque narrative captures the haunting quality of an alien place and is also a potent analogy of the problems of ageing, with the lapses of memory and confusion that can go with it.

young tove

The stories succeed so well because they aren’t surface level; each digs deep below the surface, revealing the motivations, the complexities of human beings and their relationships; and each throws a different light on human behaviour. And Jansson’s prose is marvellous; there really isn’t a dud in this collection, and I finished it exhilarated, desperate to read another volume of her work but wanting to save them and savour them. And the joy is I still have several more of her books ready to read!

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I feel I need to add huge kudos and admiration to Sort Of books for bringing us so much of Jansson’s work in English; the books as objects are beautiful too, so well done folks! 🙂

A bookish jaunt – and the loveliness of Viragoites!

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Despite my best efforts, the books continue to pour in at the Ramblings (much to the consternation of OH, who starts to wonder where we’re going to put them all, particularly if we manage to retire to a bungalow one day…) However, I’m trying to be strict with what I keep and I suspect some may be passed on to interested readers after I’ve enjoyed them – well, that’s the theory anyway

There’s been something of a splurge of review books – which is lovely, but sometimes unexpected – and these are pressurising me to read them – I’m doing quite well and reviews will follow! Here are some of the lovelies:

hesperus

Two *very* interesting titles courtesy of Hesperus Press. Gertrude Bell was of course a pioneering woman traveller and her work has been published by Virago in the past. The Pankhurst book looks fascinating and I know of several women (Middle Child, for example!) who may well want to read it after me!

pearlmanThe Edith Pearlman book comes courtesy of Bookbridgr and John Murray Publishers, and I’m very excited about this one as her fiction has been lauded everywhere.

Then there is the ongoing Virginia Woolf obsession… Having read everything there was available in the 1980s, I now find there is more – in the form of a 6 volume set of her complete essays and her early journals. The latter managed to make its way to the Ramblings this week:

woolf journals

However, the essays are proving a little more difficult as they are often large and expensive. So far, I have tracked down reasonably priced copies of the first three volumes:

woolf essays

The rest will have to be an ongoing project…

As for the bookish jaunt – this was to London, to meet up with Elaine, a fellow LibraryThing Viragoite who was visiting from the USA. She’s managing to take in a couple of LT gatherings, and yesterday we were joined by the lovely Claire and Luci, plus Simon from Stuck-in-a-Book (who alas had to dash off early), all of whom I’d met before at my first LT get-together last year. The trains were a bit of a nightmare (involving changes at Stratford plus Tottenham Court Tube being closed) and I had my usual “what shall I read on the train?” crisis; eventually settling for this:

kyril

Annabel had given it a rave review on Shiny New Books and I had recently snagged a bargain copy, so I grabbed it on my way out – and it proved to be just the right thing for the journey (a review will follow)!

After meeting up at Foyles, we spent a lovely day pottering around the Bloomsbury Oxfam, the Persephone shop, the LRB bookshop (and very wonderful cafe) plus lunching at My Old Dutch Pancake house – yum! There were bookish finds all round, and Elaine came across an original Virago she’d been after so that was good! Star of the day must be the wonderfully generous Luci, however, who seems to turn up at get-togethers with bags of books to donate – either to charity shops or to those of us who would like them! Such kindness is a wonderful thing and I’m beholden to Luci for several treasures this weekend:

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I’ve become a real convert to Tove Jansson recently, so to be presented with two collections I don’t have was a real treat!ghost milkI first read Iain Sinclair a few years back, pre-blog, in the form of “London Orbital”, which I loved, so I’m very keen to explore his work further.

hall and mansfield

And finally from Luci, a Virago title I don’t have and the Collected Stories of Katherine Mansfield. These are all wonderful books and I feel very blessed to have been gifted them

You would think that would be enough for one day, wouldn’t you, but I did slip in a couple of other purchases (well – more than a couple, really). From Foyles came this – no explanation needed really:

party

From the Bloomsbury Oxfam came these:

blms oxAnd from the Persephone shop came Into The Whirlwind by Eugenia Ginzburg and some missing bookmarks:

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But of course the best part of the day is the company – it’s lovely to chat all things bookish with people! Here’s hoping Elaine’s meet up with the Birmingham Viragoites is just as lovely! 🙂

Some Tovian arrivals!

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(Yes, I know there’s no such word, but it sounds good, doesn’t it?)

The last couple of weekends have been really busy, mainly taken up with moving Offspring to other towns (!) – so reading time has been limited and also book shopping time! However, I did have a couple of nice arrivals on Saturday, and also collected a *large* volume from the library:

The Tove Jansson biography is from the library and I’m really looking forward to it. However, the other book in the picture, her novel “True Believer” has a little bit of history to it…

My dear friend J. (who has featured on here during bookish trips to London!) is also a Tove fan, and through a mistake made by an online seller, ended up with an extra copy of this book. They replaced the mistaken second copy and told her she could donate the duplicate TB to charity – so I was volunteered as the charity, for which I’m jolly grateful, and the book arrived safely on Saturday! Many thanks, J!

As for “The Book of Daniel” – I read about this quite a while back and was intrigued enough to want to read it. However, as Mount TBR is so enormous I put off buying a copy, particular as the online prices weren’t that low.

But a charity shop copy in very good nick for 75p just can’t be resisted!

So, a few quality arrivals bookwise – always a good thing! 🙂

Another anniversary!

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Tove_Jansson_1956

As well as being the birthday of Philip Larkin, today is also the 100th anniversary of the birth of the wonderful author Tove Jansson; creator of course of the Moomins, but also a consummate artist and writer of adult fiction. I’ve only come to her work recently but I love it!.

“One summer morning at sunrise a long time ago
I met a little girl with a book under her arm.
I asked her why she was out so early and
she answered that there were too many books and
far too little time. And there she was absolutely right.”
― Tove Jansson

Happy centenary, Tove!

Recent Reads – The Exploits of Moominpappa by Tove Jansson

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My journey through the glorious Moominland continues apace, and I’ve reached book no. 4, “The Exploits of Moominpappa”. The story apparently has a bit of a chequered past, at least according to Wikipedia: The Exploits of Moominpappa, first published in 1950 and then considerably revised in 1968 under the title Moominpappa’s Memoirs, is the fourth book in the Moomin series by Tove Jansson. The story found in this book is mentioned in the previous Moomin books, as Moominpappa writes his memoirs in those stories. Unlike Comet in Moominland and Finn Family Moomintroll, both versions of the novel were translated into English.

Exploits_moominpappa

My version is the current Puffin, so goodness which I’ve got! However, not to worry – it’s still going to be an engaging tale!

As Wikipedia says, Moominpappa has been writing his memoirs for several books, and in fact the first book opened with him being lost and Moominmamma’s search for him, so it’s intriguing to hear the story of his life. The story is told to Moomintroll, Sniff and Snufkin and turns out to feature the two latter character’s fathers (which is quite strange, because it was Moomintroll who met Sniff and Snufkin and brought them home, and there was never any mention of their fathers before!)

Moominpappa came from an orphanage, ran away to find his fortune and had a number of adventures with new friends Hodgkin, the Joxter and the Muddler. They sail away on a houseboat, rescue a bossy Hemulen, have a run-in with some Niblings, and find a new land where the Mymble family live. After setting up home on an island and befriending the resident ghost, they go on to have further adventures under the sea. And then we get to the part where Moominpappa and Moominmamma meet – and the book stops!

exploits

Once again, Jansson’s storytelling is wonderful and the illustrations are just lovely! However, if I’m honest, this is probably the Moomin book I’ve enjoyed the least (and that’s not to mean I didn’t enjoy it at all) – possibly because it’s told from a different voice, or possibly because it just introduces so many different settings and characters without any warning. It kind of has the feel of retrospective writing, bringing in characters and plot that weren’t there earlier, and so it sits less comfortably with what I’ve read so far than I expected.

exploits1

Nevertheless, the Moomin world is always a magical one – the creatures are original and unexpected, the adventures quite challenging at times and of course the drawings are magical. Jansson can convey so much with just line illustrations, bringing alive the wonderful little characters who populate her books. The next book in the series is “Moominsummer Madness”, which will no doubt appear on Mount TBR very soon!

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