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Illustrated

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Title: Vem ska trösta knyttet?
English title: Who will comfort Toffle?
Author: Tove Jansson
Year: 1960

I said I was going to read more Swedish this summer, and so far, I’m doing quite okay (I’ve recently read Don Quijote, Ficciones, Tennisspelarna and Sent i november, all in Swedish, although admittedly not all in Swedish originally. Having liked everything I’ve read so far by Tove Jansson, it felt only natural to read Vem ska trösta knyttet?, kindly lent to me by Martin. It is a very short book with more pictures than text. And it’s great.

The picture on the cover to the right says it very well, I think. Toffle (or knyttet in Swedish) is lonely, because he’s too shy and doesn’t dare to be the first one to say hello. Everywhere he goes, he finds happy people and he dreams to be a part of that, but can’t. Then, he finds a message in a bottle, sent by someone even smaller, more lonely and more scared than he’s. This gives him the impetus to set out on a quest to help his poor soul mate, providing a chance to break the vicious circle he’s in.

This books is somewhat different from the other books I’ve read by Tove Jansson, simply because it isn’t a novel. I would call it a long, illustrated poem (although illustrated seems to imply that the pictures are there to show what the text is about, but it feels like it could be the other way around at times). It’s written in rhyme with the same almost magical language I’ve seen in other books. Since I was too lazy to collect quotes myself, I’ll just steal the ones Martin used in his review:

Då flög en vind från havet in med lockande musik,
en mumrik spelar på sin flöjt i sömnig sommarvik,
nån kappsäck har han aldrig haft och aldrig trånga skor,
han vandrar på den gröna äng där inga sorger bor.

And:

Och knyttet sa: förlåt en resenär
som undrar om ett skrutt har varit här?
Det har hon visst, sa dronten glatt, ett skrutt med trassligt hår
blev alldeles ifrån sig och sprang hemifrån igår,
men vart hon sprang och vart hon finns och var hon sist blev sedd
det vete mårran, men jag tror att hon var gräsligt rädd,
och vem som tröstar henne det är mera än jag vet

The illustrations themselves are unique (same style as the cover) and sometimes also brilliant, and the only visual drawback is that the text is printed using a font simulating handwriting, which is very hard to read.

In all, this book is perfect. It’s easy to read (apart from the font), it’s got language wonderful beyond description and it has a touching story which has implications beyond the pages of the book. Tove Jansson has been climbing on my list for some time now, but if she continues like this, that would be impossible, because she would soon be at the very top.

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Title: Sent i November
Translated title: Moominvalley in November
Author: Tove Jansson
Year: 1970

The Moomins are famous worldwide and I should think most Swedes have read, heard or watched Tove Jansson’s creation. I’m no exception, but it wasn’t until the year before last I started reading the books as an adult (see review of Pappan och havet), and was stunned by the unique and fantastic language used to tell adoring stories, suitable for children and grown-ups alike. Sent i november is the second book I read and although it wasn’t as great as Pappan och havet, it was still very good.

The Moomins have left their valley for unknown reasons, but some of their friends and acquaintances don’t learn about that until they arrive, resulting in an odd assortment of characters living in the valley, sharing their sometimes wildly disparate memories of the Moomins. Hemulen is busy meddling in the affairs of others, Snufkin searches for a lost melody, Mymble is at ease and sarcastic, a Fillyjonk is torn between a wish to fill Moominmamma’s role and a fear of cleaning, Grandpa Grumble is obsessed with the Ancestor (who supposedly lived in the tile stove, but has taken refuge in a cupboard), and finally, Toft has left his home in Hemulen’s boat and is reads a book about microbiology, but misunderstands the text and a hideous monster begins to take shape, but is it really only in his mind?

I will skip directly to the two main arguments for reading Tove Jansson: imagination and language. The first one is quite easy to summarise, but difficult to pinpoint more exactly. The author was a master of creating small but wonderful ideas, and bringing them together into stories which aren’t complicated, but at the same time singularly intriguing. The second one, language, is easy to understand, at least for those of you who know Swedish. Here are two quotes I found brilliant, first a note Grandpa Grumble writes when he leaves his relatives:

“Nu går jag min väg och jag mår utmärkt. […] Jag har hört allt som ni har sagt i hundra år för jag är inte alls döv och jag vet att ni har festat i smyg hela tiden.” (page 44)

…and one about Mymble during a thunderstorm:

“Under det korta våldsamma ovädret blev Mymlan helt och hållet elektrisk. Hennes hår slog gnistor och varje litet fjun på hennes armar och ben ställde sig på ända och darrade. Nu är jag laddad av vildhet, tänkte hon. Jag skulle kunna göra vad som helst, men gör ingenting alls. Vad det är skönt att göra vad man har lust med. Hon rullade ihop sig på ejderdunstäcket och kände sig som en liten kulblixt, ett nystan av eld.” (page 91)

The last sentence in the second quote is probably the best sentence I’ve read in Swedish for a long, long time. Still, these are only a few examples, similar language abounds in this novel.

As if this weren’t enough, the characters themselves are a nice mixture of stereotypes and originality, giving them a feeling of representatives for human personalities, without losing a personal touch.

The only reason I won’t give this five snails is that it simply isn’t as brilliant as Moominpappan at sea. The story is a bit vaguer and not that interesting. Still, all other aspects are perfect and make me want to read more as quickly as possible. I will buy more of Tove Jansson’s books shortly, because these are the kind of books I want to be able re-read and lend to others whenever I want to.

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Title: The Cat in the Hat
Author:
Dr. Seuss
Year: 1957

This is a children’s book written by Dr. Seuss, telling the story of two children who cannot go outside to play, because the rain is bucketing down and their mother is gone from the house. They are bored. But fear not! The flamboyant Cat in the Hat soon barges in to set things right. With his tricks and jests, and with his two little helpers aptly named Thing One and Thing Two, he wreaks havoc to the household to cheer up the children, with varied results. But what will mother say when she gets back, the anxious little fish wonders? Oh, he does not like this! Not one little bit!

The Cat in the Hat is  wonderful in its brevity and ingenuity. Written in rhyme, the book deserves to be read aloud, which takes roughly ten minutes, and is pure joy. The language flows without hindrance and highlights the hilarious story. This is how it should feel like to read something aloud. The angst-ridden fish is my favourite part, but there are many brilliant scenes in The Cat in the Hat, which is why I recommend everybody to read it, adults as well as children.

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Title: The Day I Swapped my Dad for Two Gold Fish
Author: Neil Gaiman
Artist: Dave McKean
Year: 1997

Although published the other way around, I read this book after reading The Wolves in the Walls, also written by Neil Gaiman, and with artwork by Dave McKean. Since the two works are fairly similar (intended audience, appearance, style, language, etcetera), I will focus this short review on what makes them different and why I have decided to give only three and a half snails to The Day I Swapped my Dad for Two Gold Fish.

Although containing most of what was made the next book good, this book lacks the feeling of wonder I normally associate with Gaiman. The story is still charming and I like many of the elements in it (otherwise I would not have given it three and a half snails), but it fails to engage my imagination. My recommendation is to read the The Wolves in the Walls first, and then, should you enjoy the medium and the story, do not hesitate to read this one as well. After all, neither of these publications requires much time, so enjoyment per time is still pretty high.

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Title: The Wolves in the Walls
Author: Neil Gaiman
Artist: Dave McKean
Year: 2003

If I were to choose one favourite author as of this moment, it would probably be Neil Gaiman, not because The Wolves in the Walls is extraordinarily good, but because he has yet to make me disappointed. His average level is way above that of most authors I know, and, at his best, his absolutely brilliant. The Wolves in the Walls is an illustrated children’s book. Compared to Stardust and Coraline, which can also be said to suit a younger audience as well an adult one, The Wolves in the Walls has the genuine feeling of a book for children.

This, however, does not make it unsuitable for adults. Instead, I can find several merits of this short and highly graphical experience. The story itself is entertaining, witty and excellently executed. It is, of course, fairly simple and to the point, but this does not blunt the point I am trying to make. I have mixed feelings about the illustrations, which are at times perfect in every way, but are at other times fail to catch my admiration.

What is so beautiful about The Wolves in the Walls is that it is so short. It takes ten minutes to read, at the outside, so if you have the opportunity to borrow this book, let no doubt cloud your mind. I am not sure that I think it is worth the money it would cost to buy it, though, but it is more than definitely worth the time. Four snails to mister Gaiman.

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Titel: Pappan och havet
Författare: Tove Jansson
Utgivningsår: 1965
Recenserad: 2007-03-06
Status: N/A

Många saker från sin barndom der sig som barnsliga eller på annat sätt mindre trivsam när man som vuxen upplever samma sak. Det är förstås något naturligt, eftersom våra referensramar hela tiden ändras och vi får nya sätt att se på vår omvärld. Därför är det extra svårt att skriva böcker som tilltalar både barn och vuxna. Som barn gillade jag Tove Jansson och som vuxen gör jag det förmodligen än mer.

Pappan och havet handlar om muminfamiljens flytt till en fyr långt ut till havs. Det är pappans projekt; han känner att han måste lämna dalen för att göra något nytt, för att förstå havet. De andra dras med, vissa mer övertygade om att det är en bra idé än vissa andra. Fyren på ön har dock slocknat och fyrvaktaren syns inte till. En ensam och tystlåten fiskare utgör allt intelligent liv på ön. Fast är det riktigt sant? Sjöhästarna kommer på besök då och då och Mårran i sin ensamhet driver efter familjen på ett isflak.

Vad är det som gör den här boken så bra då? Språket, skulle jag säga utan minsta tvekan. Allting är strålande enkelt, men samtidigt fenomenalt. Först och främst är beskrivningarna av Mårran och hennes oändliga ensamhet kreativa, uppfinningsrika och otroligt stämningsfulla. Här ska också inflikas att jag håller med Martin om att Mårran är det bästa bokmonstret genom tiderna. En hake är att språket inte är vidare korrekt, vilket gör att läsningen ibland stannar upp helt i onödan. Jag har valt ut ett exempel på författarens eminenta språkbruk, även om det inte har med Mårran att göra (sidan 170): “En kvarglömd humla dunsade vänligt omkring bland ljungblommorna.”

Utöver det har boken också mycket att säga om oss människor (även om huvudpersonerna inte är människor, är de ändå skrivna på ett sådant sätt att det är tydligt att människan är förebilden). Pappan och havet handlar om ensamhet och ångest, men också om arketyper och roller. Pappans sätt att vara pappa, mammans sätt att vara mamma och Lilla My och Mumintrollets sätt att vara sig själva känns alla som träffsäkra porträtt av aspekter av levande människor.

Sammanfattningsvis är den här boken ett mästerverk. Den är precis lagom lång, lätt att läsa samtidigt som den är oerhört trevlig att läsa och innehåller mycket som intresserar mig. Allting är skrivet med lekfull fantasi som går rakt in i mitt hjärta. Fem sniglar till Tove jansson.

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