Sculptor’s Daughter by Tove Jansson

Magic. There is no better word for this book.

My expectations were high. I loved the Moomin books as a child, and when I discovered Tove Jansson’s adult fiction I was bedazzled.

But this memoir …. as I said, magic.

A collection of childhood memories seen through the eye’s of the sculptor’s daughter, mixing fantasy and reality, darkness and light quite perfectly.

A whole world of childish emotions and perceptions expressed with crystal clarity. The words, the phrasing, everything is exactly right.

I lack the words to explain just what makes this book so special, so I shan’t say too much more.

But I must share some of Tove Jansson’s wonderful words.

“One Sunday I taught Poyu how to escape from the snakes in their big carpet. All you have to do is walk along the light-coloured edges, on all the colours that are light. If you step on the dark colours next to them you are lost. there are such swarms of snakes there thay tou just can;t descibe them, you have to imagine them. Everyone must imagine his own snakes because no one else’s snakes can ever be as awful.”

“Explosion is a beautiful word and a very big one. Later I learned others, words that you can whisper only when you’re alone. Inexorable. Ornamentation. Profile. Catastrophic. Electrical. District Nurse. they get bigger and bigger if you say them over and over again. You whisper and whisper and let the world grow until nothing exists except the word.”

“it was a light night, but it was the first time I had been out alone at night and I thought about the iceberg all the time so that I wouldn’t get frightened. I didn’t light the torch. The landscape was just as forbidding as before and looked like an illustration in which for once they had printed the grey shades properly. Out at sea the long-tailed ducks were carrying on like mad singing wedding songs to one another.”

“Once at twilight when Daddy was standing outside the house a bat flew straight into his arms. Daddy stood quite still and it crept into his jacket and hung upside down and went to sleep. Daddy didn’t move. We carried his dinner outside to him and he ate it very carefully. No one was allowed to speak. Then we took his plate away and Daddy stayed where it was until it got dark. Then the bat flew around for a while and came back to him again. This time it only stopped for a moment – a kind of courtesy call.”

“I crept into the wardrobe underneath the skirt and looked up inside it and now it was a light shaft that faded away into the darkness. I pulled the hem a little. Then the tulle skirt drifted out on top of me with a quiet swish. I hear the clothes hanger swing and scrape the top of the wardrobe and the skirt came after me.”

“If you stood in the furthest room you could see through all the other rooms and it made you feel sad; it was like a train ready to leave with its lights shining over the platform. The last room was dark like the inside of a tunnel except for a faint glow in the gold frames and the mirror which was hung too high on the wall. All the lamps were soft and misty and made a very tiny circle of light. And when you ran you made no noise.”

“The smaller you are the bigger Christmas is. Under the Christmas tree Christmas is vast, it is a green jungle with red apples and sad, peaceful angels twirling around on cotton thread keeping watch over the entrance to the primaeval forest. In the glass ball the primaeval forest is never-ending. Christmas is a time when you feel absolutely safe. Thanks to the Christmas tree.”

You see, magic!

Now if only some one would magic up a reissue – this is a book that really should not stay out of print.

Translated by Kingsley Hart

4 responses

  1. Where did you get this!? I can never find it… I did request something with this title before, but oddly it turned out to be a collection of short stories. Or is that how she constructed her memoir?

    And Eva, I’d recommend starting with A Winter Book!

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