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’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.
Praise for other NYRB Classics by Tove Jansson and translated by Thomas Teal:
In this brilliantly translated novel from the Swedish by Thomas Teal, Finnish-born author Tove Jansson, whose Moomin children’s books may be familiar to some readers, gives us a spare, rich collection of vignettes. A novel, a short-story collection, and an autobiographical journey, Fair Play centers on the lives of two creative women—Mari, the writer, and Jonna, the artist…For those who have yet to discover Jansson, her writing is a true pleasure, and her characters, although sparse on dialogue, are complex, passionate, and deeply empathetic. Recommend Jansson to readers of Anita Brookner’s similarly introspective novels.
—Booklist, starred review
Jansson reveals the ambiguities in every encounter. There are no easy moral judgments. Only the very finest art can show us so many shades of psychological nuance, yet make them visible with such clarity.
—Damion Searls, Harp
Fairness and playfulness are at the heart of this delightful novel, which chronicles in 17 luminous snapshots a shared artistic life…Jansson has a knack for packing a good deal of wit and wisdom into ostensibly simple tales. These deft and gentle stories are as refreshing as a dip in chilly Finnish seas.
I loved this book. It’s cool in both senses of the word, understated yet exciting, and with a tension that keeps you reading. I felt transported to that remote region of Sweden and when I finished it I read it all over again. The characters still haunt me.
A dark companion to her glowing The Summer Book. Here the setting is winter, and the almost Highsmithian subject concerns a woman who inveigles herself into the life of a famous, and rich, writer. Jansson’s writing is, as always, understated yet acute and thrilling.
—Los Angeles Times
Her description is unhurried, accurate and vivid, an artist’s vision…The sentences are beautiful in structure, movement and cadence. They have inevitable rightness. And this is a translation! Thomas Teal deserves to have his name on the title page with Jansson’s: he worked the true translator’s miracle…the most beautiful and satisfying novel I have read this year.
—Ursula K. Le Guin, The Guardian
A novel about truth, deception, self-deception and the honest uses of fiction, The True Deceiver is almost deadpan in its clarity and seeming simplicity, and is at heart one of her most mysterious and subtle works.
—Ali Smith, The Guardian
Poetic understatement, dry humor and a deep love for nature are obvious throughout [Jansson’s] oeuvre…The book is as lovely, as evocative as a film by Hayao Miyazaki.
—Time Out New York
The Summer Book manages to make you feel good as well as wise, without having to make too much effort…[it] says so much that we want to hear in such an accessible form, without ever really saying anything at all.