Thursday, 7 April 2011

A few words about Tove

As promised, here's some info about Tove, provided by Agnes Broome, my partner in (Scandinavian) crime.

Tove Jansson (pictured right - source was born on 9th August in Helsinki, right after the outbreak of the First World War, during which Finland declared its independence from Russia. Her parents were both artists; her mother, Signe Hammarsten-Jansson, was a Swedish artist and illustrator and her father, Victor Jansson, a Finnish sculptor. Jansson and her two younger brothers all grew up to follow in their parents’ footsteps; Tove and Lars became painters and illustrators and Jan Olov a photographer.

Tove Jansson, whose artistic abilities were recognised early by her parents, wanted to become a painter from a very young age. In 1929, aged only 15, she moved to Stockholm to study at Konstfack, Sweden’s most respected art college. This was followed by several journeys through Europe and training at several prestigious art schools in France and Finland. Jansson published her first drawing at 15 as well, in the Finnish satirical magazine Garm, for which she continued working as a cartoonist for 25 years. Garm was one of the very few Finnish publications to distance itself from Finland’s foreign policy at the time, explicitly advocating liberal values and criticising fascism and Finland’s involvement with the German National Socialism. Jansson herself drew cartoons lampooning Hitler. During the 1930s and ‘40s Jansson also presented her artwork at several exhibitions, including solo exhibitions, to great critical acclaim. She was soon considered one of Finland’s most promising young artists. During these years she also began publishing illustrated children’s books, for which she used the penname Vera Haij. Her success as a cartoonist for Garm also led to work for other European publications such as the London Evening News.

Jansson shot to international fame following the Second World War with the publication of her first Moomin books, which were soon translated to a number of languages, including English. She eventually, in 1959, officially retired as a cartoonist to focus more on her writing. At first this was limited to children’s fiction and an autobiographical work (Sculptor’s Daughter) but after her mother’s death in 1970, Jansson decided to start writing for adults, even though she never fully abandoned work on the beloved Moomins.

Her long writing career, which encompasses nearly every genre, has been awarded with practically every Finnish and Swedish award available, save for the Nobel Prize. Since 2002, the year after her death, her own prize, the Tove Jansson Award, is every year given to a children’s writer. Throughout her life, however, Jansson never ceased to view herself primarily as an artist and Helsinki is dotted with examples of her public works.

Fair Play, published in 1989, was Jansson’s last novel, followed only by two collections of short stories and an autobiographical work. Tove Jansson died in 2001 after a period of illness.

You can find out more about Tove at the following sites: (radio programme)

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Endings never-ending

Here's my tuppence worth on Tove Jansson's Fair Play (Rent spel - see left). Whether you loved or hated it, please add your initial thoughts and points for discussion in the comments section!

I hope everyone enjoyed reading this slight, delicate, subtle book. I certainly enjoyed re-reading it.

There were many things about the stories and characters that struck me, but what really intrigued me were the endings. In fact, they intrigued me so much I've decided to make them the theme for my response.

For me, this is a book of endings:
The vignettes somehow falling over themselves to finish, although they're never in a rush.
The characters so busy caught up in the midst of the story/work, that the ending comes suddenly, and slips by, almost unnoticed until a new beginning arrives.

Jansson's endings always seem to seal the story neatly, but never hermetically.

Like Mari's novels, the stories are never truly finished - there's no beginning-middle-end to speak of - and yet each one does cease before the new one commences.

Often, the ending is just a line that alters the tone of the story - that sets an off-kilter emotion back on track so that Jonna and Mari's quietly constant love affair can continue. Sometimes, there's more to it than that - the last sentence becomes a key that unlocks the story, exposing a new meaning. An example is Viktoria, where the deadpan dead calm that meets the morning, showing Jonna and Mari's fears for the boat to have been unfounded, as of course they were. The storm and the peril of Viktoria at the forefront of this story seem to me to symbolise the odd, disconnected game being played by the two characters. The storm's noise represents the cloak of misunderstanding and disregard for one another's stories. It also creates a game of Chinese whispers, in which each of the narratives gets caught and whisked away before it has had a chance to be finished. The stillness of the ending shows the reader that the Chinese whispers were nothing but a storm in a teacup, the unexpected mini-jibes no more harmful to Jonna and Mari's relationship than the waves and the rain to Viktoria's bows.

So much goes unspoken in these stories - there is so little that needs to be said. And the absence of small talk makes the clarity of the relationship between the two women resonate. Their understanding of one another is neverending - their disagreements agreeable, agreed upon. Their need for space and privacy a welcome change from the clinging passion that is so often presented as the perfect form of love affair.

"Excellent," Mari said. "Wonderful. Endings can be really hard."