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Friday, 1 August 2014

Review: Tove Jansson - Life, Art Work: The authorised biography

Do you remember reading about the Moomins, curious, whimsical creatures created by Finland’s Tove Jansson? Well 2014 marks 100 years since Jansson’s birth, and one of many acknowledgements is the publication of this carefully researched book, which traces Jansson’s life from birth to death. Tove Jansson: Life, art, work: the authorised biography is comprehensive, and at around 500 pages in length it’s not a book that’s quickly read.

Boel Westin, a Professor of Literature at the University of Stockholm, has delved into archives full of diaries, letters, manuscripts, drawings and photos, with the full cooperation of, and access to, Tove Jansson herself. She explores and analyses the progress of Jansson’s career, and public and critical success, examining symbolism and the blurred lines between art and reality.

In 1914, Tove was born into a family with a strong artistic heritage. Her father was a sculptor and her mother an illustrator, and Tove is said to have drawn before she could walk. She certainly demonstrated her talents early, with her first illustrations appearing in newspapers while only fourteen, and she had her first book published at nineteen. The Moomins first appeared in the 1940s and their many stories were told in a series of books (of various formats), and on both stage and screen. It took several years for the books and their characters to gain popularity, but when they did they really took off, and today there’s even a Moominworld theme park in Naantali, Finland.

However, Tove Jansson has a much wider range of work. Life, art, work shows how much more there was to her than many people realised - writer, painter, cartoonist, and illustrator. I was interested to learn she even illustrated an early 1960s edition of The Hobbit, although it was not particularly well received. Several years later, Tove was named winner of the 1966 Hans Christian Andersen Medal (the prestigious international prize for children’s literature).

Boel Westin’s fascination and immersion in Tove Jansson’s life, art and work shine through in this biography. In examining the tension between artistic ideals and expression, and the expectations of publishers and readers, while putting it into the context of world events and her personal life, we get an honest and insightful portrait of one of Scandinavia's best loved authors.

Title: Tove Jansson: Life, art, work: the authorised biography
Author: Boel Westin
Publisher: Allen & Unwin, $49.99 RRP
Publication Date: April 2014
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 9781908745453
For ages: 15+
Type: Non-Fiction

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