Nobody does it better: ‘A Winter Book’ by Tove Jansson

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I have been meaning to read Tove Jansson’s ‘A Winter Book’ for simply ages.  My excuse for three quarters of the year of course, has always been that it’s just not seasonal; then somehow my winter reading tends to get submerged in starting/ending challenges.  Fortunately in 2017 everything has converged and, as predicted, ‘A Winter Book’ was very much worth the wait.

I first learned to love Jansson through her Moomin books, and for a very long time I had no idea she wrote for adults.  Then ‘The Summer Book’ came to my attention, followed by the haunting novel, ‘The True Deceiver.’  ‘A Winter Book’ is something a bit different, made up of short, often autobiographical, stories and presented as spanning Jansson’s own life.

The first stories were probably my favourite, not just for the magically icy world they create, but because of the flawlessly childish narrative voice which seamlessly slips between an age-appropriate lexicon and phrases borrowed from adults.  The young narrator inhabits a very grown up world, and many of the stories narrate her forays into independence, such as when she decides to go on a solo sail around the Pellinge archipelago.  ‘I don’t know how it was that Mum got wind of the project; maybe she noticed I’d taken the sleeping-bag out of the tent.  She didn’t say anything but somehow she let me know she knew about it and that she was on my side as far as deceiving Dad went.  He would never have let me go.  And I’m pretty sure Mum would never have managed to deceive her own father, who never let her sleep in a tent or even wear a sailor-suit collar.  A terrible century.’

The writing is brilliantly balanced throughout.  Who but Jannson would call our attention to the fact that ‘the harbour is an ocean of blue snow and loneliness and nasty air‘, or recollect childhood with such precision as to scoff as ‘visitors hauled on the rope and were soaked to the skin in their nightshirts and had no idea what fun the whole things was, which served them right.‘  The book is not all about childhood of course, and soon maturity with its accompanying loneliness and comforts become the centre of the stories.  I suspect each reader, on each reading, will find different moments speak to them.  I certainly know that this will not be my last January spent with ‘A Winter Book’ and that it has only added to the pile of Jansson works that I’m looking forward to revisiting in the future.

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11 Responses to Nobody does it better: ‘A Winter Book’ by Tove Jansson

  1. Sarah says:

    I’m also currently reading ‘The Winter Book’ (along with a stack of Nordic Noir to compensate for the miserable lack of snow), and it’s wonderful. I thought I’d whizz through it, but am choosing instead to take a story at a time and let each one marinate. You’re spot on about the childhood voice – she captures the childish vocabulary without compromising on the seriousness of childhood. Utterly brilliant!

  2. I just adore The Winter Book and really enjoyed your review, it brought it right back to me 🙂 She captures a child’s voice wonderfully.

  3. Jansson’s adult writing is amazing isn’t it? Unbelievable how it was neglected for so long!

  4. Stefanie says:

    This sounds lovely. I read Summer Book a number of years ago and very much like it but never read anything else by her. I will have to add this one to my list for sure!

  5. elisabethm says:

    I am Dutch, I love Russian literature, and I go to Finland as often as possible. Tove captures Finland’s magic and wisdom, that you simultaneously want to share with the whole world and want to keep a secret, because it’s so unspoilt. Thanks for sharing!

    • A reader after my own heart! I would love to go to Finland one day, but I doubt I would ever be able to see it with the insight shown in Jansson’s writing. Her books are a great way of sharing and yet also keeping you at arm’s length from the private experiences narrated.

  6. elenapedigo says:

    Wow, I need to check this out! I’m a Finnophile and I’ve read some of the Moomin books in Finnish, but I haven’t read any of her other stuff or anything in English yet.

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