Saturday, April 22, 2017

Fair Play by Tove Jansson

And she'd search on, all the while afraid that they'd encounter something fantastic--one of those never-to-be-repeated street events that would play out before their eyes just as the film ran out--and then have to wonder.

Fair Play is the third book I've read by Tove Jansson, and the first I've reviewed. All three books put together only totally a little over 300pp, so they're not big time investments, and the writing is often so simple as to seem shallow--I put down the wonderful Summer Book the first time I picked it up because it seemed like a little bit of nothing--but Jansson's seemingly simplistic prose is like the tip of the iceberg. Hemingway would be proud of the amount Jansson is willing to leave submerged.

Fair Play is about two women in their 70s, Mari and Jonna, and their lives together on a small island--similar to the one in The Summer Book, though no connection is ever explicitly stated--and their lives together as they create art and capture life through their stories, drawing, and videos. Like The Summer Book, the stories in Fair Play are clearly related without ever being completely clear on chronology or exposing any strong narrative throughline. The characters and their experiences together are the story, such as it is. In one of the vignettes, Mari is talking to Jonna about a story she's working on, and reads Jonna an excerpt:

Bosse said, "And why should it all fit together? In what way? What did you expect?"

"Some sort of meaning to it all."

"Stop," Jonna said. "You said that earlier. You're going on and on about it,"

Funny, but also a simple but profound truth about how we view our own stories--we want to be the center of some event, some narrative that has a distinct ending. But Fair Play ends without a proper ending--Jonna is given an opportunity to work alone in France for a year, and Mari encourages it, dreaming of what she'll accomplish in her own solitude, and we're never told if they even meet again, certainly not guaranteed given their ages. Such is life. But the last words of the book are quite moving its own simple way, and, I think, true:

Mari was hardly listening. A daring thought was taking shape in her mind. She began to anticipate a solitude of her own, peaceful and full of possibility. She felt something close to exhilaration, of a kind that people can permit themselves when they are blessed with love.

Note: I wanted to talk a little bit about how this seems like a really lovely portrait of a lesbian relationship, but since Jansson is never explicit, I decided not to be either--the intro didn't mention it but given Jansson's life it's at least an interesting way to approach the work.

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