Review: The Year of the Hare – Arto Paasilinna

This book came with high recommendations, having been translated into 25 languages, filmed twice, and also being included in the Unesco Collection of Representative Works (the purpose of which was to “translate masterpieces of world literature”).  The book apparently has cult status in France (not a guarantee of popularity in Britain!).  The cover art alone would sell The Year of the Hare and made me want to dip inside to see what the book’s content might be.

Its difficult to define this book.  Its partly comic, but also comes into the category of fantasy, perhaps something along the lines of Baron Muchausen or Don Quixote, in that it is a set of fictional “adventures” which happen to the main character as he roams around the country.  The stories concern Vatanen, a journalist who’s car injures a young hare, and who feels inspired to bind up the little hare’s leg and adopt it as a pet.  The incident happens at a time of personal crisis for Vatanen with his both his job and his marriage being at an end , and he is prompted to break free from the constraints of his life and disappear into the vastness of Finland.

I have read Finnish books before and found a certain atmosphere of wildness about them.  75% of the country is covered with forests and woodland, and the boundaries reach well into the Arctic Circle.  The winters are fierce and days in the remote communities are very short, giving Finnish literature an almost claustrophobic feel, alternating with a sense of vast forests and wilderness.  Tove Jansson‘s books are full of this sense of remoteness, of isolation, and when reading The Year of the Hare I picked up the sense of crowded rooms with people huddled around a wood-burning stove, soon to be evicted into a world of snowy marshes, the habitation of wild bears.

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Review: The True Deceiver

I always enjoy Tove Jannson’s books partly because of their stark simplicity relating to the Scandinavian landscape in which they are set, but also because of the frequent sense of “ahh yes” as she drops in a sentence which so resonates with her readers’ own outlook on life.

Tove Jannson (1914 – 2001) was of course the author of children’s books, most notably the Moonmin series, shown on BBC television during the 1980s.  Her books for adults show a different side to her, a reflective and wise woman who had a deep understanding of the motives of others.

The True Deceiver is a fascinating novel, depicting the relationship between two women.  Katri Kling is a  young woman of fearsome ambition who lives in an attic over a shop with her brother Mats in a tiny Swedish hamlet. Katri hs developed a reputation for sorting out the villagers problems, particularly where advice is required on business matter, wills, or purchasing decisions.

Katri sets her heart on the “rabbit house”, a beautiful old dwelling in which Anna Aemelin lives, a wealthy elderly illustrator of children’s books. Tove Jannson sets the scene for the ensuing drama in the first chapter of the book:

Katri studied the house the way she’d done for some time, every morning on her way to the lighthouse.  In that house Anna Aemelin lived alone, all by herself, alone with her money . . . that’s where she lives.  Mats and I will live there too.  I need to think carefully before I give this Anna Aemelin an important place in my life. Continue reading

Review: Fair Play – Tove Jansson

At first glance Tove Jannson’s Fair Play is simply a collection of stories about two female artists living together in their old age.  It is semi-autobiographical, with Tove being the fictional Marie, and her lifelong partner, graphic designer Tuulikka Pietelä, being Johanna.  Tove is of course the author and creator of the Moomin series of childrens’ books, which spawned a large number of television programmes popular in the 1970s and 80s, and to this day.

Marie and Johanna divide their time between a large apartment in Helsinki and a tiny island of the coast of southern Finland, across the channel from Estonia.  Both women have a strong commitment to their work, and while living as partners, they also create plenty of personal space for their artistic preparation and reflection.

As in Tove’s books, The Summer Book and A Winter Book, on the face of it, nothing much happens.   However it is in the minutiae of their daily life together that forms the real core of the book and if there is a message at all, it is about making the most of each moment of the day, and appreciating everything that is around you – this almost Buddhist message comes across strongly in these simple stories.

The two women generally get along and share much of their lives together, but they also argue, they get jealous, and they often irritate each other.  On the other hand, they both understand the rhythms of each other’s lives, and they both understand the creative process and its tensions.

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