Tove Jansson: Art in Nature
Dockskåpet (1978) translated by Thomas Teal
Sort Of Books 2012
Art in Nature presents us with extraordinarily intimate portraits of Finns and others caught up in a variety of situations. Taking its English title from the first of these eleven offerings by Tove Jansson, its original Swedish title was actually drawn from the fifth story, ‘The Doll’s House’. I can only assume it was retitled to avoid confusion with Ibsen’s play A Doll’s House, but it is just as apt as a label for the whole collection because many of the subjects have a connection with artistic endeavours, through sculpture, cartoons, drama, novels and painting.
So it is that a caretaker of an exhibition attempts to reconcile a couple at odds over a painting they have acquired and a sculptor reacts badly to adverse reviews. An artist whose cartoon strip is widely syndicated suddenly gives up, leaving the job to a young successor. A novelist and her two old friends reveal anxieties below their confident exteriors while dining in a lakeside restaurant, and a tense relationship builds up between two men sharing a flat when one of them develops an obsession with building an ideal home in miniature within the apartment.
The foibles of individuals and the precarious nature of relationships is both revealed and dissected in these short stories; they are indeed like intimate scenes we see in the rooms of a doll’s house, the reader rendered a voyeur for a brief moment. Several of the later tales also involve journeys: worries about setting off, or return voyages which transform the traveller into a stranger reliving past glories; a violent action precipitated because the reality doesn’t match up to the dream, or a plane journey across time zones and across certainties.
By turns gentle and disturbing, opaque and revealing, Art in Nature blows in the cold wind and damp airs of northern climes, daring us to sit comfortably. There is art indeed in these tales set in sometimes bleak landscapes, an art which is simultaneously admirable and unsettling. I loved them.