Not only on plums, but on the delectable words of Tove Jansson. Her writing is so clear and spare — invigorating in the way that I imagine a day in the Finnish forest would be. Somehow her prose gives equal weight to the spaces between the words (and between what is said and what is unsaid) as to the words themselves.
When the biscuit was new I stood by the bookcase in the bedroom re-reading episodes from Jansson’s masterpiece, The Summer Book, whilst joggling her to sleep. Sophia and Grandmother’s adventures and arguments, the worlds conjured from their imaginations, all reminding me that the tiny bundle in my arms would grow to delight in the smallest of things. The Summer Book reminds me of my relationship with my own grandma — the conspiracy of old and young and their powerlessness against the whims and fates of the generation between them. It’s about life and death, creativity and nature; it’s about how, without despair or equivocation, we can live our lives in the full knowledge of death.
One time in April there was a full moon, and the sea was covered with ice. Sophia woke up and remembered that they had come back to the island and that she had a bed to herself because her mother was dead.
The seventeen slight chapters of Fair Play are also about love and creativity and time running out. Mari and Jonna — based on Tove and her lifelong partner Tuulikki Pietila — negotiate the difficult territory between love and freedom, companionship and independence. The novel also explores another question that really interests me — how to maintain the delicate balance between living life and recording life.
Ali Smith’s excellent introduction captures the extraordinary ‘philosophically calm’ but ‘discreetly radical’ nature of the book wonderfully: This novel is about creativity from the very start — about how you take a day, the same as all the other old on-after-the-other days, and make it really new and fresh, no matter what age you are, what life you’re in.
The advice of Mari’s friend Wladyslaw (‘he’s at least ninety years old’) seems too valuable not to pass on:
At four o’clock, the morning paper came through the letter slot.
‘Are you tired?’ Wladyslaw asked.
‘Then I won’t say much more. Just one thing — and now, my friend, you must give me your complete attention. It is simply this: do not tire, never lose interest, never grow indifferent — lose your invaluable curiosity and you let yourself die. It’s as simple as that. No?’
Why did I never read any of her children’s books? Tales from Moominvalley is in the post. Call it research for the biscuit.
Update – it’s taken me so long to write this post that Tales from Moominvalley has already been devoured and I just can’t recommend it enough. I’ll be heading back to Moominvalley very soon.