Creator of the Moomins, Tove Jansson is known universally as a writer of children’s books, but should you delve deeper into her back catalogue, you will find the most semi-autobiographical fiction that will boost your vitamin D levels by tenfold. A Winter Book is no disappointment, as she gives you a wonderfully human insight to relationships across generations and her authentic love for the Nordic sea. As Ali Smith wrote in the introduction of this compilation of short stories, “written with such a lightness of touch that it seems miraculous, these stories are a further revelation of Tove Jansson’s heart warming genius.”
Smith’s enjoyment of the previously translated The Summer Book meant the publishers requested she select and introduce the stories in A Winter Book. Across five titles, she pulled twenty which have been compiled here in this beautifully jacketed collection. Several have been translated into English for the first time.
Having trained as an artist and worked as a cartoonist, Jansson created her Moomin titles in her thirties and forties, and did not begin these adult titles until she was in her fifties. Moominvalley is still vastly popular universally, spawning comic strips, cartoons and more recently the exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery in London, where fans will swarm to in 2017.
Drawn from youth and older age, and spanning most of the twentieth century, this newly translated selection provides a astonishing portfolio of the great Finnish writer’s prose, scattered with insights and home truths. The book ends with Taking Leave, a short, melancholic tale and a stunning evocation of getting older. In this, two elderly women – we can guess that they are based on Jansson and her partner, Tuulikki Pietilä – reach the antagonised awareness that they have grown too frail to continue spending the summer on this island that they love. But this frustration is acknowledged and the situation accepted. And typical Jansson she concludes the story with a description of an old kite that they ascertain whilst clearing out the cellar and carry into the open air. The wind snatches the kite and takes it away, up into the sky, across the sea, out of sight. The metaphor is wild here in letting go, but one which makes this writer accomplished.
Stories such as this and The Squirrel make this book a must-read, as it allows us to treasure this gifted Finnish author. And I would say now is the prime time to pick it up, go on.