2014 is TOVE100, 100 years since the birth of the Finnish artist and writer Tove Marika Jansson.
I have read a few of her books (the adult books translated by Thomas Teal), discovering her about a year ago and I have become a little obsessed with her work since then.
To celebrate her 100 years, I plan to read a few more books by or about Tove Jansson and invite you to join me if you wish.
A Winter Book – see my review here
A quiet, honest collection of stories, containing evocative black and white photos that add to the atmosphere the author evokes making the reader experience life on the island and all its challenges, right up to the final story, Taking Leave, the last visit, when the nets have become too heavy to pull, the boat too difficult to handle, the sea too unpredictable for two aging women.
The Summer Book – see my review here
An elderly artist and her six-year-old grand-daughter spend a summer on an island in the gulf of Finland. Gradually, the two learn to adjust to each other’s fears, whims and desire for independence, coming to an understanding, teaching each other something along the way.
The True Deceiver – See my review here
An aging women artist living alone on the outskirts of a village is befriended by a younger woman, who after faking a break-in moves in with her brother, allegedly to provide companionship. It is a relationship that peels back the layers of both women, bringing their inclinations and bugbears to the surface, a face-off between truth and kindness, both containing elements of deception.
Art in Nature – See my review here
Still To Read
The Sculptor’s Daughter by Tove Jansson
Fair Play by Tove Jansson
Tove Jansson Life, Art, Words: The Authorised Biography, Written by Boel Westin, Translated by Silvester Mazzarella
The Moomintroll Books
She wrote and illustrated children’s books and later in life began to write for adults as well. She was close to nature and spent nearly every summer on a family island in the Pellinge archipelago, in the Gulf of Finland, an environment that features often in A Winter Book and The Summer Book.
Born on 9 August 1914 to a family of artists, her mother was a graphic designer and her father a sculptor. An artist before anything, she was multi-talented, painting, illustrating and writing, not confined to any one genre. Her first book for adults was part fiction, part memoir, The Sculptor’s Daughter, written 10 years after her father’s death.
Although I admit to never having read any of them, she is most well-known for nine children’s books that grew out of her family of characters, little white trolls living in Moominvalley named Moomintroll, Moominmamma and Moominpappa along with other creative creatures such as the Hattifatteners, Mymbles and Whompers. She also illustrated other classic children’s books including versions of Alice in Wonderland and The Hobbit.
Her career started early, drawing for a liberal satire magazine Garm at the age of 15, the title where her large nosed character Moomintroll made its first appearance. I think she may have been filling in for her mother, based on a comment I read in The New Yorker, but I’ll find out more when I read the biography. Her first book Sara and Pelle and the Octopuses of the Water Sprite – was published when she was just 13.
Her books have been translated into more than 40 languages, making her one of the most well-known Finnish artists, remembered by many from their own childhood and continuing to gain new audiences today.
“I didn’t realise it was set in a real place. I thought she’d made Finland up. Finland was like Narnia, with these incredible characters that were so strange but instantly recognisable because you had met lots of them – noisy Hemulens or neurotic, skinny Fillijonks.” Frank Cottrell Boyce
There are numerous events happening worldwide and the national gallery of Finland, Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki is holding an exhibition of all oeuvres of Jansson’s career, her surrealistic paintings of the 1930s, modernist art of the 1950s and more abstract works in the 1960s and ’70s, as well as her satirical anti-war illustrations for the magazine Garm, her murals created for public spaces, and illustrations of her Moomin characters and stories. I’m unlikely to make it to Helsinki, but was pleased to discover the audio presentations linked below, 2 minute descriptions (in English) of 12 of her paintings which you can view while listening.
Further Reading, Listening
Two Minute Audio Descriptions of 12 of her Paintings, via the Finnish Art Museum, Ateneum
TOVE100 – website with events happening internationally, resources
The Hands That Made the Moomins – An article in the New Yorker
Have you read any of Tove Jansson’s books? Are you planning to read any of them this year?
I still have my Moomin books from way back in the 70’s. Saving them for my son. Thanks for listing her adult books–I’ve never read any and apparently I’m in for a treat. Watch out for Groaks and long live Moomintroll.
And here am I about to start on the children’s books, I can’t wait to read them, I love her books, she is something unique. Your son is going to be in for a treat too, so great that the stories continue to inspire generation after generation.
I’ve been meaning to find out more about this author and am ashamed to admit I have yet to read any of her works. Your post has inspired me to rectify that now. So what do you recommend? Where should I begin?
I guess that depends on whether you are inclined to read her children’s books or her adult books. I started in winter and so read A Winter Book first and then last summer I read A Summer Book, which is talked about more often, and for me is a good reason to start with the lesser known Winter Book.
So I would start with one of those two if you prefer her adult books. I want to read Art in Nature and Fair Play before I read her biography/memoir which I know are going to be brilliant. I always save the brilliant for last. 🙂
Well since it’s almost summer, The Summer Book it is! Thanks Claire! 🙂
Great choice Edith! I fully concur, do come back and let me know how you found it and thank you for your return comment on The Invention of Wings. 🙂
Ah it’s always good to chat with you about books! 🙂
Likewise, the interactions and sharing are the icing on the cake of reading great books 🙂
Wow … I’ve never heard of Ms. Jansson until this article … now I’m intrigued. I’m going to have to look some of her stuff up 🙂
Great post, Claire, and well done Sort of Books, the small publisher who brought Tove Jansson’s adult books to our attention when they reissued The Summer Book over a decade ago now. Such lovely editons, too. I wanted to add this link to their website as it has such a lovely picure of Tove: http://www.sortof.co.uk/authors/tove-jansson/
Thank you for the link Susan and for mentioning Sort of Books, I love their books, they also publish the beautiful books of Kathleen Jamie which are also favourites.
Have you read any of Tove Jansson’s work?
I have – Summer Book and The True Deceiver both of which I loved although each is very different from the other. I’ve become a fan of Kathleen Jamie after reading Findings recently, too.
I’m very fond of publishers like Sort of Books – small but perfectly formed!
I’ve read Findings too and am saving Sightlines for a special period, when I need a bit of armchair nature immersion.
Beautiful post, Claire! I have ‘The Summer Book’ with me, waiting to be read. I want to read ‘The Winter Book’ too sometime. I have read a collection of Moomintroll stories and loved them. I hope to read more of them. ‘Art in Nature’ looks like a beautiful book. I will look forward to hearing your thoughts on it. I loved what Frank Cottrell Boyce said – “I thought she’d made Finland up. Finland was like Narnia” 🙂
Happy reading, Claire!
I loved that quote too Vishy, it captures something of the innocent childlike imagination and what a joy to discover that Finland really does exist. No wonder there are so many who make a pilgrimage there.
Looking forward to reading more of her work.
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What a coincidence! Before reading this, I had just put The Summer Book on a list of books to pick up on my next visit to the library. (The academic library, where it’s too hard to find things without making a list of call numbers…) I had no idea about the 100th anniversary, that’s perfect.
Tove Jansson is a perfect choice and The Summer Book is a great place to start. I love how she writes about life, nature, relationships, it is always refreshing to pick up one of her essays or books and I can’t wait to read the biography, I don’t have a copy yet, but will be hunting it down, definitely one that deserves a permanent place on the shelf and the chance to be lent out to friends.
The Summer Book looks like a really enjoyable read. I want to read at least one of the Moomin books too, since I haven’t read them since I was a kid and I don’t think I’ve read them all.
My friend adores Tove Jansson’s work! I haven’t read any of it before but I have promised her that I will as soon as I finish university! Your description of A Winter Book intrigues me! I am going to read the full review 🙂
You will have a few to choose from by then, but The Winter Book is a great choice, as is A Summer Book. Thanks for sharing that Hannah.