Tove Jansson

Tove Jansson, my favorite person maybe ever, wrote the Moomin books. Here is the dry basic Wikipedia article on her, which will tell you nothing important but gives the details, says the woman with three Moomins tattooed on her back. The important thing to remember about Tove Jansson is that when I was seven, I took my moomintroll books up the tree where I liked to sit and read and watch the world. I left them there because I knew they would be safe and then, of course, it rained and the next day my beloved moomin books were a soggy mess. I cried and took them home and my mother was mad at me. She relented, though, and said, “We can dry them out.” and we did, by the radiators I think and maybe with the iron, although the details are lost to me now. They were hardcovers with no dust jackets (I don’t remember any books ever having jackets then) gray and red and blue – and I still have them. They have survived me and my kids and my friends’ kids and my kids’ friends, any number of moves, a wide variety of dogs and similar hazards and they are going strong, joined over the years by other editions, paperback and shiny picture books and even popups. I still love them, as, well, you can tell. I mentioned the tattoo, right? Snufkin, my spirit guide, Little My, the real me and, a late addition to their ranks in memory of my mother, Moominmamma. Who I hope I am a bit like as well.

So I was excited when a copy of Summer Book, a Tove Jansson novel for adults, came into the store. I am actually a shitty researcher into my favorite writers, obviously, because I had no idea she had ever written anything for adults and it took skimming that wikipedia article I just linked for me to learn that she actually wrote several. Well damn. She is not well known in the States and people rarely know who my tattoo depicts. Once at a festival a lady exclaimed over my back and we bonded instantly. There are few of us, but we are passionate.

Aaaand, because the world is occasionally a serendipitous place, I wrote the above and saved it and then thought I was going to bed but first I googled the first Moomin book mentioned in the wikipedia article, The Moomins and the Great Flood, because I think it’s just possible I have never read it. Googling led me to this wonderful article that just came out and clearly I am in tune with the Moomins again. Which is why I just spent 15 minutes trying to take a picture of the tattoo. It turns out that it would take way more yoga than I have ever done in my life for me to successfully take a picture of my own back, although the process of trying was entertaining. I will try to get Audrey to take one later or something. That’s the problem with being single – dogs are terrible photographers.

Auds came home! Here is my back. It seems to have a strange, unfortunate roll of fat there below the Moomins – let’s all pretend that I was in a strange position and that is actually muscle. Or something besides fat and/or back cancer. One never looks at one’s back. It is pretty damn weird.

However! This post was going to be about The Summer Book! The Summer Book is a lovely, quiet, haunting experience. Spoiler spoiler spoilers abound, don’t read the next paragraph if you think you will ever read the book. Although it doesn’t have a plot, per se. Still!

It’s about, oh god, loss and motherhood and love. And it’s also about a granddaughter and a grandmother, although I think really they are the stand ins for Tove Jansson and her mother. The copy I read (the linked edition) has a very good forward which I wish I had managed not to see at all before I read the book, because it explains the central fact that it was written soon after Jansson’s mother’s death in 1972 and I would like to know what I would have made of the book if I hadn’t known that first. I think I would probably have picked up on it – I also lost a mother I adored and I am still putting myself back together with limited success. The stories in the Summer Book are tiny vignettes; memories, I think, turned a little into art, just changed a bit. Some of them were clearly inspirations for some of Moominmamma’s adventures – the grandmother makes bark boats. Moominmamma, too, made bark boats, which my own mother and I tried to do with somewhat limited success, and Moominmamma painted flowers on the walls of the lighthouse, a scene my mother lingered over.

So there is sorrow and love and too, the book is a wonderful portrait of a small family of intense individuals living on a tiny island with what we 21st century types would think of as nothing. No indoor plumbing, as best as I can figure. No electricity. No company, most of the time and, we would think, nothing to do! No computers, phones, TVs, just the sea and the island and a boat here and there and yet they manage just fine. And, best of all, they manage without any kind of creepy, treacly sentimentality. There’s no redemption and no huge goopy expressions of adoration: no, they say, “I hate you!” and “You’re stupid!” and then they sit and make a model of Venice together out of mud and sticks. That, you know, is really love. And really art, which is sort of the same thing.

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