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 (coming)
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.
Planning To Read
Art in Nature by Tove Jansson
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?