Tag Archives: Tove Jansson

Travels From My Sofa: Scandinavia

If 2020 had gone according to plan I’d have posted about our four-day break in the lovely city of Ghent in March and we’d be enjoying ourselves in Northern Italy right now. So strange are the times we’re living in that I’m just relieved that everyone I know is safe rather than disappointed but I can’t help missing the joys of travel so I’ve decided to revisit a few holidays, throwing in links to books I’ve reviewed, some from countries I’ve visited, others I‘d like to visit. If you fancy a change of scene, you’re welcome to join me. This time we’re off to Scandinavia beginning with Sweden.

If memory serves me right, and it often doesn’t these days, our Swedish road trip was in 2004 or thereabouts, beginning with a flight to Copenhagen. We started off in Skåne having crossed the bridge which would become so famliar to us from Saturday nights watching Saga Noren solving cimes in her own inimitable way. It’s a lovely area but what I most remember is our wonderfully eccentric B&B landlady, often to be found in her kitchen with one of her parrots on her head. She also had two gorgeous dogs who liked to sprawl in the sun. From there we headed to Gothenburg, a very pleasant city Feskekorka (Gothenburg)memorable for its fish restaurants one of which is housed in Feskekôrka, a smart modern market whose Swedish name translates as the fish church telling you all you need to know about the importance of fish to the town. The rest of the holiday was spent touring the Bohuslän archipelago with its pretty coastal villages, one famous for its inhabitants wearing their dressing gowns around town, before heading south. Our last stop was Malmö, slick and modern in comparison to picturesque Ystad, a stone’s throw away and home to Inspector Waliander, where I remember having tea in a lovely book-lined café before heading back to Copenhagen and home.

Swedish travels from my sofa: Astrid and Veronika, Wilful Disregard, In Every Moment We Are Alive, A Summer with Kim Novak

Louisiana (Copenhagen)Apart from briefly passing through on our way to Sweden, we’ve visited Denmark twice, each time a winter break in Copenhagen, both of which included a visit to the wonderful Louisiana, a beautifully designed modern gallery, crammed with all manner of treats. Given that both trips were in February, there wasn’t much chance of exploring the sculpture park which makes me want to add a summer trip to our travel list. Much of the rest of our time was spent hanging out in cafes and strolling around the much-gentrified harbour area, although I do remember a trip to a gallery exhibiting exquisite Persian miniatures and a visit to Christiana, a large commune established in 1971. Despite the city’s best efforts to shut it down, Christiana’s residents finally managed to gain a legal foothold in 2012.Cover image

Danish travels from my sofa: Often I Am Happy, This Should Be Written in the Present Tense, Mirror, Shoulder, Signal,

I fell in love with the laid-back elegance of Helsinki while taking advantage of a free hotel room courtesy of a conference H attended in 2006. It was August, a lovely time to explore the city where, oddly enough, I saw my first red squirrel in the botanical gardens. I remember spending a great deal of time in Alvar Aalto’s beautifully designed bookshop, opened in 1969, which on that visit was fantastically well-stocked but sadly depleted nine years later when we revisited the city at the end of our trip around the Baltics. We enjoyed it just as much the second time around, marvelling at the Friday night cavalcade of vintage American cars on our last evening’s walk and wondering if it was a regular event.

Cover imageFinnish travels from my sofa: Letters From Klara, The Winter War, The Summer House

I’ve yet to go to Norway, although I hope I will some day. The gorgeous scenery shots in the Scandi crime TV series Twin and Wisting have whetted my appetite and I’ve long fancied a few nights in Bergen. I have visited it from my sofa, though, thanks to several memorable novels set there: Love, The Waiter, Ashes in My Mouth, Sand in My Shoes, The Sunlit Night, Echoes of the City

Remembering holidays may be as close as I get to having one in 2020 but if that’s the worst thing that happens during this strange year we’re living through I’ll count myself lucky.

Any vicarious travels you’d like to share?

Letters from Klara by Tove Jansson (transl. Thomas Teal): Short stories to delight in

Cover imageI have to confess that these are the first short stories I’ve read by Tove Jansson although I’ve very much enjoyed her novellas, given a new lease of lease of life by the lovely Sort of Books. I’ve harboured a fondness for them since their publicist sent me a copy of The Moomins and the Great Flood on hearing that H’s elderly aunt was a huge Jansson fan back in 2012. She was delighted to share it with her grandchildren and I’m sure would have been very pleased to hear of a clutch of newly translated short stories.

Comprising thirteen pieces, Jansson’s collection opens snappily with the titular ‘Letters from Klara’ which ranges from punchy advice on ageing to a consoling letter to a goddaughter on the loss of her ancient cat, all delivered in a jaunty no-nonsense tone. There should be something to please all Jansson fans in the stories that follow but rather than turn this review into a long list of synopses, I’ll mention just a few favourites. In ‘Party Games’ a class reunion ends surprisingly amicably after a revealing parlour game rakes up old memories and resentments. A desperate and argumentative young man strides into an elderly couple’s retreat, taking shelter from a summer storm, and finds himself calmed in ‘Pirate Rum’. The vignettes from a child’s diary offer snapshots of summer, solitary adventures and learning to paint in ‘About Summer’. In ‘My Friend Karin’ – one of the longer stories which range from a few pages to over twenty – a woman looks back at the conflict between her own beliefs and those of her deeply religious family through her friendship with her beloved cousin who sees God in everything.

The stories in this collection range from bright summer recollections to darker, almost fairy tale-like pieces – alone in a foreign city, a young man finds himself painting the phantoms which haunt his father; an enigmatic young woman has a way of helping people towards their hidden desires using unconventional methods. There’s often a thread of humour running through them: ‘Mama, you’re a snob.’ says a daughter chidingly only to receive the reply ‘So are you, thank goodness, though you’re still in the early stages’. Deftly translated by Thomas Teal, Jansson’s writing is clean, crisp and fresh. She excels at word pictures, simple yet vivid, and her characters are astutely drawn. This is an insightful, perceptive collection – sometimes playful, sometimes dark but always pleasing.

I’m sure Jansson fans with a sharp eye on the UK TV schedules will have spotted BBC Scotland’s documentary on her life, repeated a year or so ago, but for those of you who haven’t yet seen it here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tYgC0nKyF0g. It’s a wonderful film, both uplifting and moving – Letters from Klara has set me up nicely for a third viewing.