This collection of stories which covers half a century of writing is divided into three parts which are loosely town based and island based and then writing in older age.
But like The Summer Book, what is so magical here is the creative spirit that links Tove and her parents and their friends to their environment. Creativity mixed with common sense and practicality.
In parts 1 and 2 Tove is a child, seeing the world through innocent but candid eyes. Part One is called Snow and the stories involve the young protagonist wintering in Helsinki, with her mother, the famous illustrator and artist Signe Hammarsten and father, Viktor Jansson an equally well known sculptor. The world she lives in is creative and bohemian, which came through wonderfully in Parties where her father rustles up some pals and together they eat expensive sausage, bread and cheese and play the balalaika. I love her description of the next day, she observes the grown ups with a disarming honesty that’s both funny and as sharp as a pin:
‘In the morning it’s very important not to begin to tidy up too obviously. And if one lets in all that nasty fresh air, anyone can catch cold or get depressed. It’s important to break the new day in very gradually and gently. Things look different in daylight, and if the difference seems to sudden everything can be spoilt. One must be able to move about in peace and quiet and see how one feels and wonder what it is one really wants to do.’
In Part two, Flotsam and Jetsam the stories move to life on the island that’s familiar from The Summer Book. She is precociously conscious of Art. In High Water she asks seriously ‘but is it Art?‘ Art always with a capital A. When her father is struggling to find inspiration, she says she is ‘so embarrassed’ by the visitors tactless behaviour in suggesting ‘motifs’ to him. Embarrassed seems such an informed and understanding reaction when most children might be embarrassed of their parent.
But the stories are also about life on the water, full of the etiquette of boating behaviour, the rights and wrongs of dealing with washed up loot and lots of practical wisdom. In The Boat and Me she describes being given a boat when she’s 12 years old and her plans to row around the Pellinge archipelago, ‘you should never keep a single inessential object in your boat’ she reminds herself. Full of adventure, discovery, jealousy and wit these are stories about waves and fog and icebergs and fishing.
In the final part ‘Travelling Light’, Tove is older and the emphasis seems more about finding her place. In the story Travelling Light she desperately wants to be left alone on a ship but keeps finding herself in conversation with people wanting to show her their family photographs! The final story Taking Leave begins, ‘There came a summer when it was suddenly an effort to pull in the nets’ and she and Tootie her partner make plans to leave for the last time. Their sense of fun and generosity is always present as they prepare the house for whoever comes in next, leaving a bottle of rum in the secret room for whoever manages to find it! The story ends with them having one last fly of their kite.