An NYRB Classics Original
Tove Jansson was a master of brevity, unfolding worlds at a touch. Her art flourished in small settings, as can be seen in her bestselling novel The Summer Book and in her internationally celebrated cartoon strips and books about the Moomins. It is only natural, then, that throughout her life she turned again and again to the short story. The Woman Who Borrowed Memories is the first extensive selection of Jansson’s stories to appear in English.
Many of the stories collected here are pure Jansson, touching on island solitude and the dangerous pull of the artistic impulse: in “The Squirrel” the equanimity of the only inhabitant of a remote island is thrown by a visitor, in “The Summer Child” an unlovable boy is marooned along with his lively host family, in “The Cartoonist” an artist takes over a comic strip that has run for decades, and in “The Doll’s House” a man’s hobby threatens to overwhelm his life. Others explore unexpected territory: “Shopping” has a post-apocalyptic setting, “The Locomotive” centers on a railway-obsessed loner with murderous fantasies, and “The Woman Who Borrowed Memories” presents a case of disturbing transference. Unsentimental, yet always humane, Jansson’s stories complement and enlarge our understanding of a singular figure in world literature.
[Jansson] writes about these things with sparkling wit and a quirky sensibility.
—The New Yorker
Complex, intriguing and haunting, Jansson’s unusual short fiction is bound to enchant an English-speaking audience just as it did a Swedish-speaking one many years ago.
Jansson’s short stories are as yet unacknowledged small masterworks.
They are tough as good rope, [Jansson’s stories], as smooth and odd and beautiful as sea-worn driftwood, as full of light and air and wind as the Nordic summer.
It could be said that everything she wrote is, in one way or another, about the creative interactions between art and reality or art and nature.
The Moomin books, and the years [Jansson] spent writing them, evidently stayed with her; the result was a stirring art, both light and dark, consoling and disturbing, spare and intricate. A simplicity of expression belies the mystery of Jansson’s art—ostensibly plain, teeming with profound delights and worries—all of which this reader’s stunted, sad-girl soul is grateful to have discovered.
—Sonya Chung, The Millions
Twenty-six spare, slyly off-kilter stories…consider loneliness, family, aging and creative experience, sometimes all together…Windows 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.
The unique Swedish-speaking Finnish author Jansson, a daughter of two artists, continues to dazzle in singular narratives filtered through her sharp wit and beguiling imagination.
—Eileen Battersby, Irish Times