Tove Jansson’s much-loved Moomins hibernate all winter but the characters in A Winter Book, a collection of the Finnish polymath’s selected stories, are very much awake. None more so than the narrator of ‘The Iceberg’, a little girl whose family has just moved to the country, who creeps out of their house in the dark of the night to spy on her iceberg, with its oval-shaped, girl-sized grotto on one side. The iceberg had floated into the bay, all green and white and sparkling, and very early for the time of year. In just four pages, Jansson weaves a magical, miniature tale of adventure and hope and the harsh realities of life. Somehow, especially now, I feel we are all that little girl, standing on the edge of the shore, berating herself for not being brave enough to jump aboard and sail away on a floating island.
First published in Bildhuggarens dotter (Sculptor’s Daughter), 1968. Republished in The Winter Book, Sort of Books, 2006
Chosen by Susie Mesure. Susie is a freelance journalist. She specialises in not specialising in anything at all. That, and reading quite a lot considering she should probably be doing something else. She interviews authors and writes features and columns for newspapers including the i paper, the FT, and most of the others. One day she might write a book.
Tove Jansson is enjoying a sort of Renaissance in recent years, with two biographies of her life published in 2014 and her 2017 retrospective at the Dulwich Picture gallery showcasing her skills as a painter as well as satirist and beloved creator of The Moomins. Her ‘grown-up’ fiction (whatever that means) has been steadily drip-fed into English by Sort Of books through her novels and short story collections. ‘The Summer Child’ is a perfect place to start if you are new to Jansson’s prose and like many of her novels takes an island family for its subject. Ali Smith writes of this story that it “challenges the way we narrate ourselves” since the boy that the Fredirikson family generously take on for the summer proves to be more trouble than he is worth. It’s a story that is darkly comic and grounded in reality, the slights and small evils of children, the harsh natural world that Jansson never idealises, all told in deceptively straight-forward prose. For an insight into more of Jansson’s excellent, honest unsentimental writing keep an eye of The Paris Review who are publishing some of her untranslated essays for the first time in English.
First published as Resa Med Lätt Bagage, Schidts Förlags Ab, 1987. Later published in English in Travelling Light, Sort of Books, 2010
A young girl and her mother are staying in a big empty house in the country so the mother can work on her illustrations. Snow falls and falls outside until there is only an underwater light filtering through the blanketed windows. The girl tells us, “Then we began our underground life. We walked around in our nighties and did nothing. Mummy didn’t draw. We were bears with pine needles in our stomachs and anyone who dared come near our winter lair was torn to pieces. We were lavish with the wood, and threw log after log onto the fire until it roared.” When the scraping of shovels comes, we feel as angry as the girl at being torn from this subterranean life.
First published in Bildhuggarens dotter, 1968, a childhood memoir, which was translated as Sculptor’s Daughter in 1969. Collected in A Winter Book: Selected Stories by Tove Jansson, Sort Of Books 2006