The Ultimate Guide to Tove Jansson’s Books

It really saddens me that in 2013, almost twelve years after the death of Tove Jansson, we still don’t have all of her adult novels in English. In fact, a lot of people don’t even know everything she worked on. I always get people asking me what novels by her they should read, or shocked comments that they didn’t know she worked on such-and-such a piece, so I’ve decided to dedicate this post to informing readers about what she wrote personally and other works she contributed towards. I’ve chosen not to go into detail about the Moomin books because these are her most well-known novels, so instead I am focusing more on her adult novels.

1945 – The Moomins and the Great Flood
1946 – Comet in Moominland

1948 – Finn Family Moomintroll
1950 – The Exploits of Moominpappa
1952 – The Book about Moomin, Mymble and Little My
1954 – Moominsummer Madness
1957 – Moominland Midwinter
1960 – Who Will Comfort Toffle?
1965 – Moominpappa at Sea
1970 – Moominvalley in November
1977 – The Dangerous Journey
1980 – An Unwanted Guest (not currently published in English)

1953-1959/2006 Moomin Comic – Volume One
1953-1960/2007 Moomin Comic – Volume Two
1953-1959/2008 Moomin Comic – Volume Three
1953-1959/2009 Moomin Comic – Volume Four
1953-1959/2010 Moomin Comic – Volume Five

 

As you can tell, Tove was constantly busy writing. She considered herself foremost a painter and then a writer. I wouldn’t consider her paintings to be very popular in the UK because I’ve found that people only associate her with the Moomins – that is, if they even realise she was female… But that’s for another time! Sorry to digress… As time went on, she felt that she could no longer find stories in the Moomins and so she turned to adult fiction. And my God, I’m glad. Her writing is so beautifully written, even in the Moomins – but in her adult novels she seems to make even the most pointless and dismal of an object appear otherworldly and admirable. I would happily sit and read her describing the life of a rock until the day I died, to be quite honest. She adds character where there otherwise was none, and most importantly she is able to put pen to paper and write things we wish we’d wrote ourselves because of their beautiful simplicity. Anyway, enough of my admiration (I’m working on an essay about her for The Lion and the Unicorn).

 

1968 – Sculptor’s Daughter (first published in 1976, republishing on November 7th 2013)

I don’t actually own a physical copy of this book because it costs between £175-500, so I can’t write what the blurb says. However, Tove actually describes this as her semi-autobiography. Amazon’s book description: ‘Tove Jansson’s first book for adults was a memoir, capturing afresh the enchantments and fears of her Helsinki childhood. Restored to its original form, Sculptor’s Daughter gives us a glimpse of the mysteries of winter ice, the bonhomie of balalaika parties, and the vastness of Christmas viewed from beneath the tree.’
Unless you’re a SERIOUS collector, or have money spare, I wouldn’t recommend buying this. ‘A Winter Book’ is made up of thirteen of the stories from this anyway, but it is being published by Sort Of Books later this year.

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1971 – The Listener (published in English on July 11th 2013)

Well, this is awkward – I haven’t read it! Only because it hasn’t been published in English yet. I’m terribly excited for summer though. One story titled ‘The Squirrel’ is in A Winter Book. Amazon’s book description: ‘In her first ever story collection, Jansson revealed the clarity of vision and light philosophical touch that were to become her hallmark. From the good listener who begins to betray the secrets confided to her, to vignettes of a city storm or the slow halting of spring, these stories are gifts of originality and depth.’

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1972 – The Summer Book

Tove’s most well-known book for adults. Most people start off with this because it’s so easily available. The young girl in it is Sophia Jansson, Tove’s niece who works as part of Moomin Characters. The grandma is her actual grandma – Tove’s mother, and the island actually exists.
‘An elderly artist and her six-year-old grand-daughter while away a summer together on a tiny island in the gulf of Finland. Gradually, the two learn to adjust to each other’s fears, whims and yearnings for independence, and a fierce yet understated love emerges – one that encompasses not only the summer inhabitants but the island itself, with its mossy rocks, windswept firs and unpredictable seas.
Full of brusque humour and wisdom, The Summer Book is a profoundly life-affirming story. Tove Jansson captured much of her own experience and spirit in the book, which was her favourite of the novels she wrote for adults. This new edition sees the return of a European literary gem – fresh, authentic and deeply humane.’

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1974 – Sun City
I think this is Tove’s most unknown novel. It isn’t in publication anymore, but it isn’t as sought after as Sculptor’s Daughter. I got my copy from Abebooks for around £15 which is an ex-library book from Centralia in Illinois. I contacted Sort Of Books last year to see whether they will be republishing this as they deal with Tove’s books in the UK now, but they replied saying that Tove was not overly fond of this book. I personally love it (but I’m biased, I admit).
‘After her sharp and insightful portrait in The Summer Book of a Finnish grandmother, who enchanted thousands of readers, Tove Jansson has now turned to look at the darker side of growing old, and has written was Madeleine L’Engle has called “an indictment of the American way of old age.” Sun City is set in St. Petersburg, Florida, “paradise on earth,” according to the brochures. But underneath the eternal sunshine, stranded on the veranda of the Berkeley Arms, are people who have been cut off from their pasts and are afraid to look to the future. The mention of death is unseemly in St. Petersburg; the ambulances make no sound. Tove Jansson is sensitive to the stored fears of a lifetime and to the special fears of growing old. As a writer, she has a rare combination of toughness and warmth and an acute perception of comic and human detail. Sometimes wryly funny, sometimes achingly sad, her characters make tangible, immediate, and personal a reality too many people have been eager to ignore.’

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1978 – The Dollhouse and Other Stories (English publication: Art in Nature)

The most recent of all her novels, published in July 2012. I don’t know why they didn’t just call it the original title, but c’est la vie. This one made me feel like I understood Tove more than any of her other novels. The haunting story of The Dollhouse makes me truly understand how she felt whilst making the beautiful Moomin house that’s on display at Tampere Art Gallery, and if you know that Lars Jansson took over Tove’s place working on the Moomin comic strip then The Cartoonist will stay with you forever.
‘In Art in Nature, the first story in this darkly acute collection, an elderly caretaker at an outdoor exhibition interrupts a couple arguing about a piece of contemporary art. He reconciles them to the work with a surprising idea. In The Locomotive, a draughtsman’s obsession with drawing trains provides a macabre twist to a love story. The Cartoonist finds a young man taking over the drawing of a famous comic strip after the original artist suffers a breakdown… only to discover that his own sanity is in danger. In these witty, often disquieting stories, Tove Jansson reveals the fault-lines in our relationship with art, both as artists and viewers. Obsession, ambition and the discouragement of critics are all brought into focus in these wise and cautionary tales.’

 

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1982 – The True Deceiver

Published in English in October 2009, you can definitely tell that Tove put a bit of herself into this book – Anna is an illustrator of children’s books (ring any bells?) and Katri, who only cares for her younger brother (Lars?)
‘In the deep winter snows of a Swedish hamlet, a strange young woman fakes a break-in at the house of an elderly artist in order to persuade her that she needs companionship. But what does she hope to gain by doing this? And who ultimately is deceiving whom? In this portrayal of two women grappling with truth and lies, nothing can be taken for granted. By the time the snow thaws, both their lives will have changed irrevocably.’

 

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1984 – The Field of Stones (not currently published in English)
Like The Listener, I haven’t read this yet. Sort Of Books are planning to publish a new book each year, so maybe this will be out in 2014.

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1987 – Travelling Light

This is a definite must if you’re travelling. I read it whilst I was on an adventure to London and it was perfect for the time.
‘A professor arrives in a beautiful Spanish village only to find that her host has left and she must cope with fractious neighbours alone; a holiday on a Finnish Island is thrown into disarray by an awkward and critical child; an artist returns from abroad to discover that her past has been appropriated by a former friend. With the deceptively light prose that is her hallmark, Tove Jansson reveals to us the precariousness of a journey – the unease we feel at being placed outside of our milieu, the restlessness and shadows that intrude upon a summer.’

 

travellinglight

1989 – Fair Play

There isn’t a real blurb to this, just a quote from Ali Smith taken from her introduction. This is my personal favourite by Tove though. I can see so much of Tove and Tuulikki written in it, and it’s wonderful how she has captured their relationship. The story that I love most is ‘Travels with a Konica’, because I know how passionate both of them were about taking films on their journeys – you can even buy some of them on DVD here (Islands and Cities is hugely recommended. There a clip of Tove dancing with a cat. Everyone should see that, honest).
‘So what happens when Tove Jansson turns her attention to her own favourite subjects, love and work, in this novel about two women, lifelong partners and friends? Expect something philosophically calm – and discreetly radical. Its publication is cause for huge celebration.’

 

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1991 – Letters from Klara and Other Stories (not currently published in English)
Again, this hasn’t been translated yet. One story with the same title is published in A Winter Book. I’m hopeful that a full translation will be published soon.

 

klara

 

1993 – Notes from an Island (not currently published in English)
Yet another that hasn’t been translated, but there is a story taken from it in A Winter Book called Taking Leave which details the sad end to Tove and Tooti’s island adventures.

 

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1998 – A Winter Book (a compilation of other stories, mainly Sculptor’s Daughter)

If you’ve read the other descriptions, you’ll realise that this is just a collection of stories from Sculptor’s Daughter (thirteen to be exact) and one story from The Listener, Letters from Klara, Travelling Light and Notes from and Island. It’s worth buying if you like Tove’s novels and don’t want to wait around for years for new translations.

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About four years ago when I was sixteen, I was completely obsessed with Lewis Carroll. I read every book I could get my hands on about him because I was so fascinated by Alice in Wonderland. I studied hard in school and got an A* in English literature, even giving a presentation about him for my coursework. I adore interpreting books, which is why I am mad for Tove Jansson – she leaves everything open to the reader and everything relates to her life more or less. So when I discovered that Tove had contributed illustrations to copies of Alice in Wonderland and The Hunting of the Snark, I was dumbstruck. Before I knew it they were republished and in every bookshop. Most people don’t know that though.

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My to-read list is so vast that it’s quite overwhelming, so I’ve never actually read any of J.R.R. Tolkien’s books. But what do you know… Tove illustrated a copy of The Hobbit!

 

hobitti

 

The sad news is that it isn’t available in English, but my best friend Nina in Finland sent me a copy of the Finnish text for my Birthday last week. Tolkien enthusiasts don’t always agree with her interpretations of characters,  but everyone is entitled to an opinion. Tove definitely has a distinctive illustrative style that is evident in all her work. For instance, is this Tooticky’s hut? (from Alice in Wonderland)

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Snufkin (from Hobitti)?

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If you are interested in reading further about Tove Jansson, I highly recommend Tove Jansson Rediscovered which features nineteen essays about her adult and children’s novels. Although it’s a hefty £40, it’s worth every penny if you like literature interpretations.

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3 responses to “The Ultimate Guide to Tove Jansson’s Books”

  1. Sandra says:

    Oh, Adele, Adele, thank you, thank you. You have made my day as well as lengthened my own to-read list. I will be looking for “The Listener” this summer and perhaps trying to persuade my local library that despite budget cuts is desperately needs to a copy of “Tove Jansson Rediscovered.”

  2. Mikaela says:

    Nice blog, and nice to see that someone is so interested in the Finnish Moomins! They sell Moomin stuff everywhere here in supermarkets for example. I bet they are more expensive in the UK. I used to live and study in England, now I’m back home in Finland! :)

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