Twenty-six spare, slyly off-kilter stories collected from the life work of Swedish-speaking Jansson, who wrote 11 works of adult fiction (The Summer Book, 1972, etc.) as well as a series of children’s books (Moominpappa’s Memoirs, 1994, etc.) before her death in 2001.
Written between 1971 and 1998, these stories consider loneliness, family, aging and creative experience, sometimes all together as in the opening story, “The Listener,” about an elderly woman who creates an elaborate chart of her memories. In “Black-White” and “The Other,” artists find themselves erasing the line between art and life, while “The Cartoonist” expresses artistic ambivalence as a man hired to carry on someone else’s cartoon becomes obsessed with understanding why his predecessor quit. “The Doll’s House,” concerning a retired upholsterer who builds a miniature world for himself and his uninterested lover, asks who ultimately owns the finished creation. In “A Leading Role” and “White Lady,” actresses juggle artificial roles and reality. In “The Wolf,” one of several stories with animal titles, a woman wonders if the Japanese artist she’s hosting will draw the caged animal they see together at the zoo or the one he imagines. In one of the volume’s most disturbing stories, it isn’t clear if a woman writer living purposely alone on an island allows a squirrel to terrorize her or if “The Squirrel” is her creation. Other stories use travel to consider relationships, memory and isolation. Most, like “A Foreign City” and “The Woman Who Borrowed Memories,” feature characters whose lives go out of kilter. But a few—“The Summer Child,” about a rural family and the difficult boy they take in for the summer; “The Garden of Eden,” about a woman negotiating between warring expat neighbors in Spain; “Travelling Light,” about a man who can’t escape his own generosity—offer slivers of gently sweetened optimism.
crop up often in Jansson’s stories, reflecting the transparent wall between her
lonely characters and their worlds but also Jansson’s expression of intangible
thoughts and feelings with lucent prose.