Sunday, January 21, 2007

A Winter Book - Tove Jansson



Tove's Jansson's A Winter Book is the perfect accompaniment to the earlier The Summer Book (Review). There are 20 stories in this collection, which is aimed squarely at adults, but would probably be enjoyed by older children. The book also comes with an introduction by Ali Smith, and Afterwords by Philip Pullman, Esther Freud and Frank Cottrell Boyce. The collection is divided into three parts: Snow; Flotsam and Jetsam; and Travelling Light - throughout each section Tove ages, so that the first story, "The Stone", features a young Tove, and in the last story, "Taking Leave", the by now elderly Tove is having to move to live on the mainland now she can no longer manage life on the bleak Finnish island she purchased after her Moominvalley books because a big success. Jansson trained as an artist and worked as a cartoonist, before writing the Moomin books in her 30s and 40s. She started writing for adults when she was in her 50s. In one of these stories, "Messages", she simply transcribes some of the bewildering messages that she receives from greedy companies and crazy, each one of whom wants to grab some part of her creation for themselves; one fan writes "Can't you draw me a Snufkin that I can have tattooed on my arm as a symbol of freedom?" whilst a company requests: "We look forward to your valued reply soonest concerning Moomin motifs on toilet paper in pastel shades" (Toilet paper?!)

"Taking Leave", is a short, melancholy, yet beautiful picture of old age. Jansson was 86 when she died in 2001, and I found it easy to imagine her striding energetically across her island until her old bones refused to take another step. In the story, two old women reach the irritating realisation that they have grown too infirm to continue spending their summers on their isolated island. Even worse, though, is the knowledge that "something unforgivable happened: I became afraid of the sea". The initial fury is followed by a calm acceptance and they decide to give away the house, packing up, leaving notes for the next occupant(s) which explain where to find things and how things work, whilst making sure not to explain everything too clearly: "one should not underestimate their natural curiosity." Another writer might have finished the story with a description of leaving the island, or of looking back from the boat for the last time as it heads to the mainland, but Jansson doesn't bother. Instead, she describes an old kite that they find on their last day whilst clearing out the cellar and which carry out into the open air. The wind snatches the kite and takes it away, up into the sky, across the sea, and out of sight, and they're gone.

This is a gorgeous book - the cover is very eye-catching and this is from someone who doesn't tend to take a huge amount of notice of bookcovers ! - and the whole book is packaged beautifully with a number of black and white photos inside.

4 comments:

MLight said...

I had never heard of these. Thank you!

Michele said...

You're very welcome !

Debbie G said...

OMG!!! My copy of The Summer Book is a treasured possession (it's from the 70's) but I didn't even know of the EXISTENCE of this one. Now I have to get a copy. Wow.

Michele said...

Well The Summer Book only came out here a couple of years ago - thanks to Sort Of Books - who are also responsible for A Winter Book... I'm glad that I could bring it to your attention...