Updated on May 19, 2015
46. ‘A Winter Book’ and 47. ‘Moomin: Volume One’ by Tove Jansson
For the first time ever, I’m here with a DOUBLE book review! As you may know, I recently went on holiday to Lapland in Finland, and was inspired to read some books by perhaps Finland’s most famous writer and artist, Tove Jansson. Jansson created the wonderfully popular Moomins and she also wrote stories for adults, so I decided to dip my toes into both of these worlds with a volume of Moomin comic strips and a collection of her short stories.
Let’s start with the Moomins. I know for many people these cute characters were an integral part of childhood, but I went into this collection really knowing nothing about them. What I learned was absolutely charming: the Moomins are a close-knit family of kind, nature-loving creatures who want nothing more than to live the simple life (without their hordes of poor relatives!).
The stories are filled with a terribly infectious childish joy as the Moomins get themselves into all sorts of scrapes. I particularly liked the collection of comic strips about the family going on holiday to the south of France and accidentally getting rich. In the end they decide that money is much more trouble than it’s worth, so they give it all up to go back to their lovely little home. It’s a heartwarming philosophy that’s absolutely delightful to get lost in for an afternoon.
Much of the same philosophy can also be seen running through A Winter Book. Many of the stories are told from the perspective of a child (presumably strongly representing Jansson herself), as she watches adults going about things in ways that she doesn’t understand. There is a gentle melancholy in all of the stories, and also a sense that life isn’t really as difficult as we might make it: as long as you can curl up in a blanket and listen to the rain, you can’t ever be truly unhappy.
The writing is very sparse, which doesn’t make it boring but rather proves Jansson’s writing skill: there’s nothing non-essential here because every word adds to the atmosphere. My favourite story was probably ‘The Squirrel’, which follows an old woman living alone on an island as winter is setting in. She notices a squirrel is also living on the island with her and she begins a peculiar love-hate relationship with the animal, which really symbolises her own loneliness and isolation.
Although these books are very different, I think they complement each other perfectly and they both beautifully convey Jansson’s gentle, friendly, life-loving philosophy. If you’ve never read anything by her, I’d recommend both of these as a really good introduction to her work.
“This is only a moment, a moment that will pass quickly. I must use it or make it new.” – The Squirrel