Tove Jansson

I have just finished reading Tove Jansson: Life, Art, Words by Boel Westin.

Tove Jansson in her studio in Helsinki

The book is a lengthy, layered work which builds up a comprehensive picture of Tove Jansson and her work. The detail and academic depth of analysis by Westin adds to the pleasure of reading this biography. It reveals how Jansson’s work is intensely personal but shaped by a clear artistic drive and painstaking skill. Jansson’s motivation to work and love is evident in her work and her life despite enormous challenges, particularly living through the war in Helsinki (when she was brave enough to send up both Hitler and Stalin in her cartoons).

Throughout her life, island summers gave her the space she needed and reminded me of the little island houses I saw when in Finland last year, and brought back detail from The Summer Book by Tove Jansson which I read while I was there.

The illustrations of the sea in the Moomin books are like my sea views from the overnight ferry to Helsinki. The sun never quite set all night.


The colour plates in the biography added more fascinating detail, as did the illustrations throughout. I watched a BBC documentary about Jansson after I’d finished the book and was pleased to find that Boel Westin (she is Professor of Literature at Stockholm University) was a commentator throughout. There was also archival footage, particularly of the island, but also of Jansson’s mother and niece who, it turns out, were the two main characters in The Summer Book.

The Moomin machine keeps turning out more cartoons and films, but the original work is the real thing. 

Jansson’s art work was a revelation – not just in the Moomin books and comic strips, but the murals, self-portraits, seascapes and illustrations.

She kept working right into her eighties – mainly on her writing in her later years. She wrote novels and short stories which I am looking forward to reading. I have this collection of short stories ready to go. Great title.

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