Books – Tove Jansson’s island summers

As we edge into summer, I can’t help but think of a Finnish island I often visit in books. The island was the summer stomping ground of Tove Jansson, the fiercely creative artist and author of the Moomins books that both children and adults still cherish.

In her books and letters – see Letters from Tove – she writes about island life and nature with beautiful clarity. You come away from her books feeling as if you have just been sitting at an open window watching her boat tugging on its rope in wild seas. You can almost feel the collected driftwood and smell the coffee. Her life there is a feast of nature, art and writing. The island is small but, with child-like wonder, she maps it out with details as if it were a planet in its own right. 

Jansson didn’t just write for children, though. She also delighted adults with her novels and comic strips that brim with wit and insight.

Her novel The Summer Book takes the reader to the island setting, quietly observing the fond and awkward relationship between a grandmother and her granddaughter. 

But my favourite novel is Fair Play, based on the creative world of her and her partner when they were older. One a writer, the other an artist, they are spirited and ambitious. Her writing is so authentic, so true to human relationships, that it made me smile throughout. 

I didn’t realise how funny Jansson was till my sister gave me books of Tove’s comic strips. In one, Moomin and The Sea, a hapless Moominpapa relocates his family to a deserted lighthouse in the hope the experience will turn him into a writer. 

Another, Moomin Begins A New Life, follows Moominpapa in his quest for happiness, renouncing his everdyay life in the process. Both are hilarious commentaries on human whims and errors. 

What a wonderful way to start the summer, reading these beautiful pages – be it in her comic strips, letters, children’s books or novels for adults – that take us to that refreshing sea.


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