Review: Tove Jansson: Life, Art, Words: The Authorised Biography by Boel Westin + Tove100

HARDCOVER; 511 P.
TRANS. JAANA NIKULA
SCHILDT, 2008/2097
SOURCE: FROM THE LIBRARY

The Finnish-Swedish writer and artist Tove Jansson achieved worldwide fame as the creator of the Moomin stories, written between 1945 and 1970 and still in print in more than twenty languages. However, the Moomins were only a part of her prodigious output. Already admired in Nordic art circles as a painter, cartoonist and illustrator, she would go on to write a series of classic novels and short stories. She remains Scandinavia’s best loved author.

Tove Jansson’s work reflected the tenets of her life: her love of family (and special bond with her mother), of nature, and her insistence on freedom to pursue her art. Love and work was the motto she chose for herself and her approach to both was joyful and uncompromising. If her relationships with men foundered on her ambivalence towards marriage, those with women came as a revelation, especially the love and companionship she found with her long-time partner, the artist Tuulikki Pietilä, with whom she lived on the solitary island of Klovharu.

In this meticulously researched, authorised biography, Boel Westin draws together the many threads of Jansson’s life: from the studies interrupted to help her family; the dark shades of war and her emergence as an artist with a studio of her own; to the years of Moomin-mania, and later novel writing. Based on numerous conversations with Tove, and unprecedented access to her journals, letters and personal archives, Tove Jansson: Life, Art, Words offers a rare and privileged insight into the world of a writer whom Philip Pullman described, simply, as ‘a genius’.

— blogger note: the cover pictured is not the final version, which explains the wrong title —

The year 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of Tove Jansson’s birth. Growing up, Tove Jansson’s Moomin characters offered a fantastic world of adventure and excitement. My mother used to go to the library and bring back two Jansson books: one Moomin book for me and my brother, and one adult book for herself. I guess love for Jansson is a family trait. Nevertheless, the author has always carried a certain mystery around herself. Attending the Helsinki Book Fair last autumn, I noticed that the approaching anniversary of Tove Jansson was starting to show in the stalls and flyers and decided to “some day find out more about Tove Jansson”.

Tove Jansson: Life, Art, Words is the first and probably the most in-depth biography written about Tove Jansson. It was originally published in 2007 (in Swedish), and has been recently translated and published by Sort of Books. Boel Westin, a Swedish professor on Literature, started the project when Tove Jansson was still alive, and after her death had almost unlimited access to her files, studio, and correspondence. She also interviewed Tuulikki Pietilä, Jansson’s long-time companion, and people who worked with the author. To say the material was sufficient would be an understatement.

Westin writes chronologically, focusing on Jansson’s literary works (she was also painter and cartoonist). The book introduces Jansson’s family, describeds her years of studying art and the effect that the raging WWII had in giving birth to the Moomin. She devotes a considerable amount of pages to the literary analysis of Jansson’s books and their themes. For me, it was immensely fascinating to see her pull different aspects and elements out of books that I’d read a long, long time ago but still remembered. I kept pausing to think about the different experiences the readers have, based on their knowledge of the context and the author.

I loved how Boel Westin constructs the space and time around the author so that I could almost feel what she was feeling at those moments. I don’t read much non-fiction, and was expecting this to be dry and long-winding, but in fact it kept me up for late hours, hooked on the “story”. It’s wonderful, and I definitely recommend this book to everyone who wants to learn more about Tove Jansson or the Moomins!

5/5

tove100

As 2014 marks the 100th year anniversary of Tove Jansson, many bloggers are celebrating this through reading and reviewing her books. I’ve only ever read Moomin books and cartoons, both of which I read when growing up. This year, I hope to read at least 4 adult books written by Jansson (in addition, I’d love to read the new biography written by Tuula Karjalainen – which will be published in English by Penguin!). I’ll probably end up re-reading some of the Moomin books too, but I hope to focus on the adult novels that are new to me.

The books I review will be linked back to this post, as well as any update posts on the topic. In 2014 I’ve read:

For more information about the celebration year and the global events, visit the Tove100 web page.

Review: Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

PAPERBACK; 326 P.
PENGUIN , 2000/1944
SOURCE: RECEIVED AS A GIFT

The most nostalgic and reflective of Evelyn Waugh’s novels, Brideshead Revisited looks back to the golden age before the Second World War. It tells the story of Charles Ryder’s infatuation with the Marchmains and the rapidly-disappearing world of privilege they inhabit. Enchanted first by Sebastian at Oxford, then by his doomed Catholic family, in particular his remote sister, Julia, Charles comes finally to recognize only his spiritual and social distance from them.

Brideshead Revisited is known as one of the classics depicting the 1920s – a period that I’m not that familiar with. I received this book a few years back as a birthday present from my parents and it’s been sitting on my shelf ever since. I was, however, reminded of the book’s presence soon after New Years when the BBC adaptation was suddenly on TV and it looked beautiful (I did, however, close the TV after 5 minutes because I didn’t want to be spoiled). I started reading this book at the end of the Bout of Books 9.0 read-a-thon, and the exhaustion from an intense reading week was definitely present. I put the book down on Sunday evening and didn’t pick it up until Wednesday night. I just did not feel like reading. I continued to read Brideshead Revisited a couple chapters at a time, quickening the pace towards the end of the book.

The story is told from the perspective of Charles Ryder, an artist and now a commander in WWII. It looks back into Charles’s youth in the bustling 1920s, his friends and their relationships. The tone in the beginning of the book – the modern day – is sad, depressed, and bored which presents a strong contrast to the youthful memories. Charles’s story starts when he befriends Sebastian Flyte, a young and peculiar student from a wealthy family in the countryside. Charles is slowly introduced to the strange family circle of the Marchmains, and their luxurious lifestyle soon pulls him in. The book describes both the languid and relaxed moods of the period as well as the fast and instantaneous ones. The relationship with Charles and Sebastian is an interesting character study of both friendship and love.

I tweeted that reading Brideshead Revisited was like watching a slow-motion film, and I still hold on to that opinion. The events usually happen in small periods of time but they are described with such a calm tone that it feels like it never ends. This was for me both an enjoyable thing as well as a bit off-putting. The language is beautiful, but at the same time I craved to go on with the story and find out what will happen. I didn’t completely fall into the world of the book and was left a bit cold by it. The debate on religion was also fascinating, but I didn’t feel the passion behind it. In short, I was a bit disappointed by the book. Similar to my reading experience with The Great Gatsby, I felt like I missed something that the book was trying to convey.

Nevertheless, I would recommend this book for its stunning language and description, especially to the fans of the 1920s.

3.5/5

The languor of Youth – how unique and quintessential it is! How quickly, how irrecoverably, lost! The zest, the generous affections, the illusions, the despair, all the traditional attributes of Youth – all save this – come and go with us through life. These things are a part of life itself; but languor – the relaxation of yet unwearied sinews, the minds sequestered and self-regarding – that belongs to Youth alone and dies with it.

This book was read for Jazz Age January hosted by the lovely Leah of Books Speak Volumes – go check her out!

Library book haul

Blue Monday, no thank you. My Monday started with sunshine, a small latte from my favourite coffee shop and a walk to the library with a long list of books that I wanted to read. And there they were – sitting on the shelves, waiting for me! Perks of getting up early, I’d say. Rest of the day was nothing special; I was just waiting to get home where I could curl up with a book and a big cup of tea.  

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The five books that I checked out on Monday were:

  • A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen (Finnish translation)
  • Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
  • Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
  • The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman (last of the series!)
  • Missä kuljimme kerran by Kjell Westö (in Finnish)

I’m super excited for all of these! Especially The Amber Spyglass – the third and final book in the His Dark Materials series – which I’ve been waiting for ever since I finished The Subtle Knife. Another book that I’ve been curious about is The Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. I saw the 2005 film when I was in upper secondary (loved it!) and my friend recommended me to also read the book. But somehow I just never got around to actually checking it out from the library and reading it.

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I got two books in Finnish (another is a translation from Norwegian): Missä kuljimme kerran by Kjell Westö and A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen. Kjell Westö is a famous and immensely popular Finnish-Swedish author here in Finland. I’ve read a few of his books but never this one, and as it is on my TBR 254, I decided to give it a go. Now, A Doll’s House is a famous play by the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen that deals with women suffrage and women’s position in marriage. It was originally published in 1879 and naturally caused a stir in the society with its out of the norm ideas.

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And then finally, a book and an author I had never heard of until WordsofaReader talked about it on her Youtube channel. It is Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, and just look at this cover. Wow! I’m so happy that the library has decided to purchase these editions because they are just stunning. Guilty confession: I kind of want to buy this book only because of the cover. However, the story does sound interesting although at the same time I have no idea what to expect from this book. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see?

Hope all of you had a lovely Monday, and let me know if you’ve recently checked out any books from your library and/or are planning to do so. Cheers! x

Review: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

HARDCOVER; 354 P.
TRANS. MARIA LYYTINEN
WSOY, 2011
SOURCE: PURCHASED

Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they’ve known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin’s orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.

Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously -and at great risk- documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father’s prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives. Between Shades of Gray is a novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart.

When I started to follow book blogs, this book was often featured on bloggers’ book hauls. The title caught my interest, but as I couldn’t find it on the shelves of the bookstores I visit, the book slipped my mind. I eventually picked this up from a second-hand bookshop in October, but for some reason it took me a few months to finally start reading it. 

The story begins in Lithuania where a 15-year-old girl, Lina, and her mother and brother are taken from their home in the middle of a night. They are packed into a train with several others Lithuanians and sent to Siberia. At first, Lina can’t understand what is happening or why it is happening, but through flashbacks and hints from other passengers, the picture becomes clearer. In comparison to other WWII books that I’ve read, Lina’s story is different in the aspect that the main oppressor here isn’t Hitler, but Stalin. Ruta Sepetys’ family history dates to Lithuania and the book is her grandmother’s story of the terror that the nation had to endure.

I really enjoyed reading Between Shades of Gray. It was touching and so easy to read, that I literally sat down on the couch and read 70 pages in an hour. In that sense, it was a perfect read for a read-a-thon. I loved the different characters (Andrius♥) in the book and seeing their different strategies for survival. It was gruesome to think that the people have had to live a life of such misery. But despite all the sadness, there book still has love and laughter which makes it so heartwarming. However, there were some aspects in the book that I think would have benefited from more explanation. Not being that well rehearsed in the history of Lithuania, there were moments where I found myself confused by names or hints to certain events. Another thing that I know has raised a lot of discussion on this book, is it’s abrupt ending. I’m not going to spoil it, but I will say that looking back, I do also think that it was a bit too rushed.

After I finished the book, I battled between giving it 4 or 5 stars in Goodreads. Since you can’t give half stars, I couldn’t decide whether this book was closer to 4 or 5. I kept going back and forth, but I think I’ve now settled on 4 stars. However, the books is lovely, touching and definitely worth reading! Especially if you don’t  know what happened in Eastern Europe during WWII – this story will open your eyes.

4.5/5

“Hello, Lina. You’ve gotten to page 278. That’s pretty good!
I gasped, then pretened I was engrossed in the book. I looked at Andrius’s handwritting. I ran my finger over this elongated letters in my name. Were there more? I knew I should read onward. I couldn’t wait. I turned though the pages carefully, scanning the margins.
Page 300:
Are you really on page 300 or are you skipping ahead now?
I had to stifle my laughter.
Page 322:
Dombey and Son is boring. Admit it.
Page 364:
I’m thinking of you.
Page 412:
Are you maybe thinking of me?
I closed my eyes.
Yes, I’m thinking of you. Happy birthday, Andrius.”

Review: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

PAPERBACK; 568 P.
SPHERE BOOKS, 2013/2012
SOURCE: PURCHASED

When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock.

Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war.

Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils … Pagford is not what it first seems.

And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations?

Two years ago, this was the book that everyone was talking about. Five years after finishing the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling published her first book aimed to the adult readers. The story of The Casual Vacancy is set in a small town somewhere in England and focuses on the different levels of humanity and human behaviour. Naturally some readers loved the book because it was written by her, and some hated it for the same reason. A lot of people compared it to the HP series, and there was also a rumour that it was based on actual people which kept the media interested for a while longer.

At the time of the publication, I didn’t buy this book because it was really expensive and I wasn’t reading fiction as much as today. I decided to wait for a while for the hype to pass and the price to drop. However, I soon forgot about it entirely until my Christmas shopping trip when I had nothing to read at home and saw it in the book store with the new cover (to be honest, I never really liked the yellow and red cover). Reading this book, I struggled a bit in the beginning. I don’t know if it was the fact that I tried to absorb all the information about the characters or if I was just confused on where the story was actually going. However, after passing the half-way mark, I read pretty much 100-150 pages a day – it was so intense.

As can be expected from J.K. Rowling, the book was written beautifully. The characters were well-developed and I loved how the story moves from one point of view to another, giving deeper insight to the society of Pagford. Nevertheless, there were a few characters that I felt intrigued by but who sadly didn’t get their spot on the limelight. I love when the author jumps between different narratives and still manages to keep the story together. It was also interesting to notice how my personal opinion on the dead character, Barry Fairbrother, changed depending on whose point of view I was reading. In The Casual Vacancy, the characters all struggled with different issues and their problems were not always presented pleasantly. In the end, I found the book to be surprisingly sad, although it did also have its funny moments.

I’d recommend this book to all of those who enjoy Rowling’s writing style, but also to those who would just like a contemporary read.

4/5

“It was so good to be held. If only their relationship could be distilled into simple, wordless gestures of comfort. Why had humans ever learned to talk?”

Bout of Books 9.0 – Update #4 & Wrap-up

BoB9.0-200x200A new week is here and it is time to say goodbye to the Bout of Books 9.0. I had fun challenging myself to read more and I’m now two books ahead of my schedule in Goodreads’ 50 books reading challenge. To recap, my challenges for this Bout of Books 9.0 were to 1) read at least two books and start a third one, 2) read every day, and 3) take part in at least one of the Twitter chats and/or challenges. But first, let’s see what happened on Sunday.

Sunday was definitely my most non-reading day of the whole read-a-thon. I guess I was starting to get tired after reading laboriously the whole week, but also I think that Brideshead Revisited is the type of book where reading it quickly would spoil the fun. Thus I enjoyed a lazy Sunday brunch with the book for about 18 pages, and later in the evening I languidly mused with the characters another 19 pages. I might make slow progress with this book but it doesn’t mean that I’m not finding it interesting. Pages read: 37

On the whole, my read-a-thon went really well. I managed to read two books: Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling, which I had started a bit earlier, and Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. Both were very enjoyable books and I intend to write reviews of them as soon as possible. I also started my third book, Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, of which I’ve now read 54 pages. The total number of pages I read during this week was 816, and the most productive day in that sense was Friday when I read 188 pages. I managed to read every day of the week and, except on Sunday, I read about 80+ pages on an average day. However, I did fail the Twitter chat/challenge/community part of my challenge. Mostly because I had some computer issues (still working on it!), but also because in the end, it didn’t feel like something I needed. Staging books or making poetry with book spines does sound like fun but I felt like focusing more on the books themselves and the reading. I did tweet about the Bout of Books a couple of times and discovered some new blogs to follow thanks to the read-a-thon, so all hope is not lost!

Hope all of you had a lovely week and you read some awesome books!

Bout of Books 9.0 – Update #3

BoB9.0-200x200‘Are we there yet?’ The half-mark of the Bout of Books read-a-thon has been passed and the second to last update is here. I’ve truly managed to stick with this read-a-thon and it seems I’m going to achieve most of my goals: I’ve already finished two books (reviews will be up next week!), and read every day. However, due to some technical problems I have not been able to take part on any chats or challenges these last days. Luckily there’s still one day left!

On Friday, I had my Literature exam in the morning but as I had no classes in the afternoon, I was free to read as much as I liked. The first week of university is usually more relaxed which is good when you have a read-a-thon going on. I read about 110 pages of Between Shades of Gray during the afternoon, drinking several cups of tea along the way. It is extremely pleasant to read something that flows as easily as this story does although the topic isn’t a very nice (the oppression of Lithuanians under Stalin). I had planned to participate in one of the challenges on Friday but my computer had other plans. It has been lately very unreliable so I decided to back up my files and re-install the system. And while the computer ran it’s programs, I read some more – 70 pages to be exact. Pages read: 188

On Saturday, I spent my morning sipping tea and reading the final 75 page of Between Shades of Gray. I’m super happy that I decided to read this book because it was so emotional, beautiful and sad. I couldn’t start another book straight away, so it took until later in the afternoon that I picked up Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. This book was gifted to me a few years ago and I’m reading it now as part of the Jazz Age January hosted by Books Speak Volumes. I’m only 17 pages in but so far it seems okay. Pages read (so far): 92

Currently reading: Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
Books finished: 2
Pages read in total: 779
Twitter chats/challenges: 0

Bout of Books 9.0 – Update #2

BoB9.0-200x200It is the fourth day of Bout of Books 9.0 and there have been ups and there have been downs. Yes, it is finally starting to feel like a marathon. Reality seems to be catching up with me and my reading – at least today. On the whole, I’ve already managed to read more than during a normal week AND I’ve read every day (which was one of my goals for this read-a-thon). So far so good.

On Wednesday, I woke up early and read about 60 pages of The Casual Vacancy. I had an afternoon class at the university and I met some friends over coffee. My evening should have consisted of a lot of revising and a little of reading. However, the end result was a lot of reading and … no revising. Before going to bed I read the final 100 pages of The Casual Vacancy and I really liked it. Pages read: 166 (!!!)

On Thursday, I again woke up early in order to read. I started reading Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys and I was instantly hooked by the writing as well as the setting of the book. I read almost 50 pages in two hours. Nevertheless, as I had put off revising the day before, I knew I had to get back to work. And that’s what I did the entire day – what comes around certainly goes around. Despite being tired, I managed to read another 40 pages in the evening. Pages read: 87

Currently reading: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Books finished: 1
Pages read in total:449
Twitter chats/challenges: 0