Tove Jansson has been a part of my life since I was a kid. She is one of those authors who has so much to give through a lifetime. When I was a kid my mother used to read me the Moomin books and when I grew older I read the same books myself. Every time I read those timeless stories I open a new layer. When I have grown up I have found details that I could not possibly understand as a kid. When I was a teenager I kept a school presentation about Tove Jansson. Because I was thorough back then as I am now I found an article that opened the characters of the Moomin valley with a more grown up perspective. I had just realized how philosophical the books actually are and how well they describe humanity. Then was the presentation day and I explained how according to the article Groke is actually Moominmamma's dark side that arrives every time when mamma has a hard time. I also remember referring that Stinky is an alcoholic. I got a great laugh because my school mates were in the belief that Moomin books are children's books and children's books don't include stuff like that. Well, now being more adult I could endlessly analyse the characters of the Moomin books. I have to say I haven't yet read a book or series of books that would picture us humans with such clarity and honesty.
What I have read about Tove Jansson is that she wanted to be known from her other works as well. She wrote more than Moomin books and was a talented painter and cartoonist. I have read Bildhuggarens dotter and Rent spel years ago in Finnish. (I put the names of the books in Swedish because I think that with the original names you can find easier translations to a language you can read.) Now I have had a long pause that I haven't read anything from her. On my last library visit I went through shelves to find something interesting and came across her books. I took two novels and this collection short stories that I am talking today.
24/52 Tove Jansson: Dockskåpet (1978) I read this in Finnish Nukkekaappi ja muita kertomuksia. Tove Jansson is a sharp writer of short stories. She pictures the everyday happenings carefully and clearly. The way you can write about seemingly neutral expression and show how it is all but neutral. How one can say there is ingredients in the fridge go help yourself and how it is obvious in that situation that person stating this means he is mad. She also knows how things lose their portions and small disagreement goes to a quarrel and how silly and serious we human beings are at the same time.
The name story Dockskåpet is about a couple who retires and finds it difficult to adjust to the new phase. It is challenging for them to figure out how to fill their days and be together all day long. Alexander has worked as a upholsterer and to get the days pass better he begins to build a miniature house with all it's detailed furniture and small objects. What begins as a small hobby turns into a project that he crafts with all his preciseness. Time and space consuming project closes Erik outside and that is where the conflict begins. When Boy arrives to help with miniature's electricity it is not obvious anymore to whom the house is built. The story is serious but has so much bitter sweet comic in it. Their small gestures express so much about their dynamics. The miniature house is more than a dollhouse, it is a symbol about their future and how it is going to be, and how they will manage and sort out the challenging phase to adapt to the new lifestyle as retired couple. They both have time to think their relationship and own life which makes them grow insecurities. The pattern of work and free time divided life has kept them functioning. In the end we are all quite insecure and the smallest of actions can start a snow ball effect that builds a bigger conflict. Also the story brings up how different personalities we are and how various ways we have to show our appreciation and love to each other. Alexander wants the house to be perfect and sees the end result as what matters the most. He forgets to do the project together and doesn't see how Erik peeks on the background to be part of the project that has gotten a more symbolic value. Even though perfect might look pretty it's cost might be too pricey. It can't be that only one person in the relationship is qualified to take the lead and the other one has to do minor tasks like mold mini bananas and apples from clay to get the time pass better. Even though the theme is serious Jansson's wry humor makes it amusing read.
The humorous style carries through the collection of stories and I enjoyed a bit anarchistic approach to life that Tove Jansson has written to her characters. Old sculptor lives with his monkey who he calls monkeydevil (apinasaatana in Finnish) and other not so flattering words. It feels refreshing how cranky he is and how many swear words he uses. Like his vocabulary has become restricted during the years living with the monkey who actually doesn't understand the meaning of the words. It is wonderful how he pets his monkey to blankets yet calls her by names. The ugly names he uses for the monkey are without the last sharp edge and though meaningless. The monkey is dear to him and even the reader loves the little evil monkey. I think these kind of love hate relationships are not uncommon. At the same time the monkey annoys him but it is a part of his life and taking care of the monkey is somehow emotionally important for the sculptor who lives alone. It also seems that the monkey is his only friend and they have formed a way to cope days. When he reads the critics the monkey helps him survive by loyally ripping off the difficult pages. He ponders how similar people and monkeys are with their urge to hit to person's vulnerable spots, what is different he thinks is that monkeys are forgiven. Maybe we all have an animal urge to destroy like monkeys have. The difference is that in a monkey it is pure and comes as an instinct to rip a paper or create a mess. We know when these actions hurt another person yet we do those things intentionally and it makes our actions even more evil. Maybe it is an egoistic urge to destroy pretty things someone else has done because the applause and appraise is not for us. Still even if we are horrible to each other and get to taste our own medicine we still try to success according to civilized manner. Like the monkey that sculptor pities we still climb, make an effort, even though the world is not always so welcoming.
Rosa and Elena are planning a trip. Rosa reluctantly tries to dream about same things as Elena in a fear that she will leave her if she is not courageous and adventurous enough. At the same time when they are together she is bound to her mother with whom she still lives with. Before she and her mother have dreamed about travelling together and she feels that something is still incomplete before she can move on with Elena. It looks like she has to choose between her childhood and adulthood and that is where she struggles. But in the end those two things are not so divided and one keeps part of the childhood even though the adult side begins to dominate. Little by little the company of childhood family is in minor role when partners, friends and professional life begins to fill days. Elena puts high pressure for Rosa to move on with her life and challenge herself because Rosa has adapted a pattern that feels easy but unexciting. It is sometimes impossible too see how stuck you are before someone pushes you to see your own life more clearly. It is horrifying to jump to the unknown and try to learn new instead of same old. When Rosa is afraid that Elena leaves her, maybe she is also afraid skipping life as a young adult. Elena has an open minded and curious attitude towards life and it looks like she believes her skill to cope and achieve in life. Maybe Rosa sees the risk that she will become her mother too early and misses the essential part of life if she doesn't dare to jump for their relationship with full force. These decisions to act are lonely (big decisions in life are in the end always made alone in one's head) and hard ones but inevitable to move on in life. That is why the push forward feels so painful because it can't be avoided.
The rest of the stories have equally interesting themes. There is a grandmother who has a different concept of time than everyone else which makes it difficult for her grandson to adapt to the average lifestyle. A cartoon drawer is haunted by the disappearance of his predecessor. A party of elder women have a great time outdoors when they remind each other from the old days and observe the youth. Truly recommend this collection of stories!