An appreciation of Tove Jansson

Three of our booksellers reflect on the works of author Tove Jansson, and explain why everyone should be reading them.

“I came to Tove Jansson later in life. So while I didn’t have the Moomins to travel through childhood with, I’ve been lucky to have had Tove herself to travel through adulthood with.

I first picked up her work, Fair Play because it had an introduction by Ali Smith (my hero) and because she had a Swedish name (my love for Sweden is widely known at Readings). I didn’t even read the introduction first – I knew it would be there when I was finished – and instead, I dived right in. Tove writes with such warmth and such clarity of the everyday. She captures the intimacy and the distance of relationships. Fair Play is a short novel that leaves you feeling you understand two lives lived internally and externally in all their fullness.

I lack Jansson’s economy and clarity so I think it’s best I defer to her to tell you why you should read Fair Play. In the words of her original cover copy: "Fair Play could in fact be called a novel of friendship, of rather happy tales about two women who share a life of work, delight and consternation. They are very unlike each other, but perhaps that is why they manage to play the game successfully, with patience and, of course, a great deal of love.”

Marie Matteson

“I was inspired to pick up Jansson’s adult books thanks to a recommendation from a colleague some years ago, and I’ve never looked back. Reading them also inspired me to return to her Moomin books which I’d dipped in and out of as a child, and I was delighted to discover I still loved them as much as ever. Jansson is hands-down one of my most recommended authors – for children, adults, and complete strangers. Her books are playful, thoughtful, nostalgic, bittersweet, heartbreaking, very funny, imaginative, enchanting, enthralling, and immensely pleasurable. I often need to sit with her stories for a while after finishing them, just to let all my feelings settle.

If you’re looking for a place to start with Jannson’s non-Moomin books, I’d recommend The Summer Book, which is arguably her best known work for adults. In this slim novel, an elderly artist and her young granddaughter while away an idyllic summer together on a tiny island in the gulf of Finland. The depiction of the relationship between the two feels entirely authentic as they move from play to fights, acknowledging and accepting each others yearnings and fears.

And if you’re yet to read the Moomin books, Comet in Moominland introduces readers to most of the main characters of the world, and so is the best place to start for organised people. My favourite might be Jannson’s Tales From Moominvalley, which brings together nine stories about the citizens of Moominvalley. I loved every one of them but my favourites were ‘The Last Dragon in the World’, which made me want to cry, and ‘The Fir Tree’, an utterly enchanting Christmas tale. Though Moomintroll Midwinter is, honestly, perfect.”

Bronte Coates

“Tove Jansson’s Moomintroll books: are they kid’s books for adults, or adult’s books for children? They’re either and they’re neither and they’re both. I’ve chewed on them in each direction, as a kid and thirty years later reading them to my kids, and both ways they taste just as bitter and just as sweet. When I first found Moomintroll Midwinter I was maybe ten and starting to get worried that I wasn’t ever going to stop being socially awkward and a little bit confused about most things. These feelings, I thought, were surely going to be liabilities in the adult world that I kept hearing so much about.


Moomintroll Midwinter is apparently the fifth book in the series, but like my encounters with Tintin, I read the Moomins willy-nilly. Even though I’m sure that this invests both these series with a mythic timelessness, I am glad that I came to Moomintroll Midwinter later in my Moomin encounters, and I beg you to read (or read aloud to some lucky child) at least one, preferably two or more, of the other Moomin books before you get to this one. Comet in Moominland, or Finn Family Moomintroll or hell, all of them. This is because Moomintroll Midwinter is such a contrasting piece, texture-wise. It works better if you have the ‘normality’ (beautifully complex, homely and uncanny in equal measure) of Moomintroll’s life established. In all the other books, he is surrounded by his excellent and eccentric family and friends. In this one, he is alone. You witness Moomintroll’s uncertainties, his doubts, his fears. Because of the cool directness of her gaze, and the warmth of her vision, Jansson allows us to see all this, and still to survive. Moomintroll Midwinter is a real-life emotional survival handbook.”

Bernard Caleo

Letters from Tove

Letters from Tove

Tove Jansson, Boel Westin, Helen Svensson, Sarah Death

$39.99Buy now

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