Friday, December 28, 2012

We need distance, it is essential

Tove Jansson was a Finish artist best known for her Moomin cartoons. They are adorable little hippo-like creatures that I am fascinated with. Jansson also wrote fiction both for children and adults. Not all of her works are available in English (yet I hope) but I have read The Summer Book before. I always check for her at the used bookstores and was thrilled to find Fair Play while holiday shopping.

Fair Play is a collection of stories about two women who live in connected apartments and work on their own artistic projects. It explores how their lives intersect, how their relationship nurtures each other's creativity, and how they spend their lives together while maintaining their own solitude.

"There are empty spaces that must be respected - those often long periods when a person can't see the pictures or find the words and needs to be left alone."

Not much happens in the way of action, different characters come to visit and the two do take a trip to Arizona, but the beauty of Jansson's writing is just in the detailed picture of place and characters she paints. The way the two women talk to each other is captured so well, you can feel the tension when things are not right with only a few sparse sentences.

"'This happens all the time,' said Jonna. 'Again and again. Now, once and for all, try to write down the meaning of life and then take a photocopy so you can use it again next time.'"

Fair Play has interesting pieces on how difficult it can be for two artists to function together. They each so desperately need space to create on their own but love each other very much. "The Letter", the final story is so perfect to me. They know each other so well that tiny shifts in behavior are noticed quickly and agonized over. Their distance is necessary but also difficult to handle at times. But the women love each other enough that they can respect the need to not always be together physically, without the worry that the other will drift away emotionally.

"She began to anticipate a solitude of her own, peaceful and full of possibility. She felt something close to exhilaration, of a kind that people can permit themselves when they are blessed with love." 

I'm not certain that I can describe this book well enough to do it justice, but let me just say that I want to curl up and live inside Jansson's writing. Highly recommend.

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