Writer: Tove Jansson (translated by Silvester Mazzarella)
Publishing House: Sort of Books
Date of Publication: 2010 (first published 1987)
Rating: 5 stars
‘’Light is Jansson’s insistence that no man or woman is an island. No matter how much we may long to escape others, we can’t; and even the simplest daily act of existing in the world, living with others, never mind anything more intimate, is fraught with alienation. The collection revels in this paradox, the human longing for solitude versus the human need for contact.’’
Ali Smith’s beautiful Introduction says it all, don’t you think?
‘’Dear child, make sure you bring your young man so I can have a look at him, but don’t go buying some expensive and unnecessary gift. At my age, I’ve got pretty much everything I want, plus better taste than most of my progeny.’’
An Eightieth Birthday: A special birthday party provides the opportunity for a discussion on Art, the dreams of youth and staying true to your convictions.
The Summer Child: A boy with strong beliefs and principles asks difficult questions and causes disarray during the summer holidays of a rather ignorant family.
A Foreign City: An elderly man has arrived in a foreign country to visit his sgrandspn. Soon, problems arise. His hat disappears, he forgets his hotel. Without even a basic knowledge of the country’s language, he has to rely on accidental meetings and the kindness of strangers. The lesson of the story: When you travel, learn the basics.
‘’But all the swallows flew away. And it’s like that old saying; when the swallows go, it’s because the home’s no longer a happy one.’’
The Woman Who Borrowed Memories: A suffocating story of a famous artist who accepts the invitation of an old ‘friend’ whose only purpose is to vilify and harm her. Jealousy and malice are so powerful…
Travelling Light: A difficult man decides to withdraw from everything and everyone, yet his decision forces him to reexamine his relationships and perceptions.
‘’Ladies, you waste your time on inessentials. When we’ve finished our coffee, I think we should devote ourselves to the contemplation of nightfall.’’
The Garden of Eden: Viktoria arrives in a village near Alicante, in Spain, to visit her goddaughter. Suddenly alone and haunted by a now extinguished friendship, she finds herself involved in the strange dispute between two women. Will she be able to reconcile the two opposites? A beautiful story that reminded me of a more toned-down Tennessee Williams.
Shopping: A sad story of obsession, fear, unseen threats and the unbearable rift between a wife and a husband.
‘’August arrived with its black nights. When the sunset cast its red light between the tree trunks we would run home because we didn’t want to see the darkness fall.’’
The Forest: The forest becomes a jungle as a young boy discovers the story of Tarzan in a summer of make-believe.
The PE Teacher’s Death: The tragic suicide of a PE teacher exposes the secrets of a community and the constant search for the unattainable thing called ‘’Happiness’’.
The Gulls: A brilliant woman is trying to cope with her impossible husband, a heartless coward. A story that could have been exasperating becomes beautiful in its sadness through the haunting descriptions of the island and the slow summer evenings.
The Hothouse: An elderly man is showered with the love of his family but he is still suffocated. His visits to the Hothouse and the moments of solitude are his treasures. One day, he discovers that he isn’t the only one to occupy his favourite bench. This is the beginning of an unlikely friendship and the heart of a story that raises the questions of ageing and finding the balance between willing solitude and the company of another human being.
Correspondence: The moving letters of a Japanese girl to her favourite writer. Pages of pure beauty!
‘’And when we land, it won’t be Papa’s island anymore, it’ll be ours, for weeks and weeks, and the city and everyone in it will fade away, till in the end they won’t even exist or have any hold on us at all. Just pure peace and quiet. And now in the spring the days and nights can be windless, soundless, somehow transparent…’’
Wondrous translation by Silvester Mazzarella.