Tuesday 13 November 2007

Book Group: The Results

I've talked so much about Tove Jansson's Fair Play, without actually saying anything, that many of you will probably think Book Group was months ago. Well, I've just come back from it, and nine other people who had read Jansson's book over the past six weeks. So here is my opinion of Fair Play, and what the group thought of it, so pile in with your feedback too, please! The cartoon is recycled, and not as appropriate to the topic for today, but I like it as an image of the bookish blogging community, and it'll appear whenever I report back from my terrestrial Book Group.

I'll start off a little defensively - I don't think Fair Play was as good as Tove Jansson's other works, those I've read anyway. Have a look at A Winter Book and The Summer Book by searching in the blog searcher, if you like - short stories and a sort of vignettey-novel
respectively. Having said that, Fair Play was still a delight. Marketted as a novel, it is in fact a series of short stories/ideas/vignettes/snapshots featuring the same characters. Jonna and Mari live on the same, small Scandanavian island, artist and writer, and... well, that's about it. Jonna rearranges Mari's pictures; a girl obsessed with Mari's mother comes to visit; they discuss their fathers; they watch an old film; edit one of Mari's stories, and so forth. Each chapter has a small incident occur, and Jansson wraps her delicious prose around it. By the end she has provided a beautiful portrait of an unconventional couple, co-dependent and close rather than affectionate. Jansson doesn't allow the narrative to become twee, but she does give beauty. This was especially true on my re-read (the first time in many years I have re-read a novel immediately) where I could just wallow in the prose.

So, what did the Book Group think? I must confess, I was worried whilst I was reading it. Plot is quite far down on my list of priorities when evaluating a book, but I know that's not the case for a lot of people - Jansson's novels are either viewed as beautiful writing, or just fairly pointless. One guy definitely took the latter view - just couldn't see the point, engage with the characters, or be bothered to read on. A few others agree
d to a lesser extent. That's fine - I deliberately suggested one I hadn't read already, so that I wouldn't be too sensitive about people's reactions. Most of the group found the writing to be very good, the novel to be gentle and evocative, and the characters intriguing, if slightly distant from a depiction of 'love', which the introduction suggested. Nobody loved it, desperate to read more (if only they'd started with The Summer Book!) but a few said they would if they came across some.

So, not a failure, not a success - but people were happy to have read something they wouldn't otherwise have come across, and that is, after all, one of the main reasons that people join Book Groups.

Over to you! As far as I know, Curzon and Carole have read Fair Play - and of course anyone else is welcome to join in. Thoughts?


  1. Although I haven't read it, I think it sounds very appealing actually. Of course if you are looking for a novel and only get vignettes that might be disconcerting. It's good, though, to be exposed to something you wouldn't normally pick up though. I'll have to add it to my list.

  2. I left a comment way back where your original suggestion was: in effect comparing FP to MacCall Smith's books, which are comforting in the extreme to read; short on plot but long on atmosphere, characterisation and sense of place.
    FP is almost more of a photograph album of isolated moments in the relationship between two women: each chapter throwing more light on them by highlighting their different reactions to things and events. This was my first Jansson (Summer Book is upstairs, unread) and I look forward to more.


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