Fair Play by Tove Jansson (#NovNov22 Translated Week)

Apart from A Winter Book and The Summer Book, I’m still new to Tove Jansson’s writing for adults, having become most familiar with her Moomins series over the last 11 years. This is a late work, first published in 1989 but not available in English translation (by Thomas Teal; published by Sort Of Books, with an introduction by Ali Smith) until 2007.

Rather like a linked short story collection, it presents vignettes from the lives of two female artists – Mari, a writer and illustrator; and Jonna, a visual artist and filmmaker – who are long-term, devoted partners. Of course, this cannot be read as other than autobiographical of Jansson and her partner of 45 years, Tuulikki Pietilä. There are other specific details drawn from life, too.

What the book does beautifully is recreate the rhythm of life lived alongside another person. The two women have studio space at either end of a large apartment building and meet to watch films (the subject of “Videomania”) and go on trips. Each other’s work is a background hum if no longer a daily keeping-to-task.

Not a lot happens, so not too much stood out; a couple of other favourite stories were “Wladyslaw,” about welcoming a Polish refugee friend, and “In the Great City of Phoenix,” about a stop at an Arizona hotel. The final piece, “The Letter,” however, does present an imminent change: one of the partners is invited on a foreign fellowship and love means a temporary letting go. (Public library)

[127 pages]


I also recently read a forthcoming artistic/biographical study of Tove Jansson for Shelf Awareness, to be released by Thames & Hudson on December 6th. As it is also novella-length, it’s a good link between our literature in translation week and next week’s nonfiction focus. Here’s an excerpt from my review:


Tove Jansson: The Illustrators by Paul Gravett

This potted biography of the author best known for the Moomins showcases the development of her artistic style and literary themes. Born at the start of World War I into a family of artists (her father a sculptor, her mother a graphic designer, her brother Lars a collaborator on her comics), Jansson wanted to paint but had limited opportunities as a woman. The book contains a wealth of illustrations – over 100, so nearly one per page – including photographs and high-quality reproductions, many in color and some in black and white, of Jansson’s comics, paintings and book covers. Gravett also probes the autobiographical influences on Jansson’s work, which are particularly clear in her 15 books for adults. A sensitive portrayal of Finland’s most widely translated author, this is itself a work of art.

[112 pages]


17 responses

  1. I seem to be the only person in the world who hasn’t read any TJ. The Moomins simply never appealed when I was younger and it seems to have become a bit of a barrier for my trying anything else by her. Do I need to get over myself?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Her adult fiction is obviously less whimsical, though still has a light touch, moving from moments of humour to melancholy or bittersweetness.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The Gravatt looks very tempting. She led an interesting life. I very much enjoyed BBC Scotland’s documentary on her both times I watched it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sure I’d enjoy watching that.


      1. I think it’s on YouTube.


  3. I should read more TJ too, and the Gravatt book looks lovely.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I still haven’t read any Tove Jansson. I really must remedy that.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. […] Fair Play by Tove Jansson, translated by Thomas Teal – Rebecca at Bookish Beck […]


  6. I love Fair Play, though I think it’s probably her quietest, least eventful book. Rachel and I just discussed The True Deceiver on the latest episode of Tea or Books?, which is her darkest and probably my favourite. I hadn’t heard about the new book about her – I have read two biogs already, but will make space for a third!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m always surprised and impressed by the breadth of your literary expertise. The True Deceiver sounds great — and my library has a copy, hurrah!

      This biography is very much focused on her illustrative style (it’s part of a series called The Illustrators), so it’s not comprehensive, but it probably told me as much as I needed to know about most aspects of her life.


  7. Oh, the biography looks interesting. I was terrified of the Moomins as a child but have managed to read a few of her books for adults now, and love the settings and relationships in them.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I definitely didn’t read Fair Play as a novel. But maybe looking at it as a collection made it more appealing to me. I could put it down and pick it back up without losing the gist. I mean, there’s not much of a gist. But her quiet sensibility always seems to work as a reading balm for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I read it on the plane to the States. You’re right, it’s one that’s easy to pick up and put down. I didn’t find it as impressive as The Summer Book.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The Summer Book holds together better, for sure. Also, the grandmother/granddaughter relationship is so compelling. The huge elephant in the room of the mother’s death–beautifully done, I thought.


  9. […] found the chat about Sybil interesting; I have enjoyed reading Tove Johanson so liked a post on Fair Play and also enjoyed the following Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf – Kate at Books are my Favourite […]


  10. I thought I’d read this one from the cover, but it must have been one of those “borrowed, returned unread” situations; from Simon’s comment I now recall that it was The True Deceiver I actually read. Each in your pair must have added to the experience of the other; I made a note of the latter when I heard it was coming out, but I’m not sure how likely it is I’ll find a copy here.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The biography is so richly illustrated. It’s interesting to see how her style developed.

      Liked by 1 person

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