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on 6 February 2009
This is a collection of short stories by the Finnish author and illustrator Tove Jansson, better known as the creator of the Moomins. Tove grew up in Finland and spent most of her life in a remote island in the Finnish gulf, first with her artist parents and then with her lifelong partner. The nearly-autobiographical stories in this collection cover her tomboyish childhood, where life is ruled by the adventures the island provides, to her old age, when she has to leave the island for good due to health reasons.

Some of the stories don't stand up for themselves; they seem like sketches that bridge other stories or paint just one aspect of the author, but without tension or much narrative drive. Others, however, are like Zen paintings on the relationshion between humans and nature, perfect glimpses of a life dedicated to the outdoors as a way of discovering the interior. Tove's writing is full of anecdotes which are slightly quirky and probably good representations of Finnish humour. There's a certain innocence to her stories that makes A Winter Book as warm and bright as a dreamed summer.
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I got this book after loving The Summer Book so much. I was a little daunted to find that this was not a novel, but a collection of short stories. It is often the case that those who write great novels write mediocre short stories as they are very different disciplines. Luckily Jansson excels at both. The stories are slight, almost like sketches. Some deal with her own memories of bohemian childhood, others are straightforward fiction. The memoir stories are often very funny, with that peculiar melancholy that haunts much of her writing about the moomins. I read some of them to my children and they found them hilarious and touching. The only fault I can find is that these are an amalgamation of stories from several volumes of Jansson's work, which has yet to be published in its entirety in English. I would much rather have read the books as they are meant to be rather than having the stories presented to me by an editor. Having said that, better to have this than nothing at all. I am just hoping they hurry up and print everything she has written.
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on 21 January 2013
Until we actually get Sculptor's Daughter in English, and how I long for that, this is the next best thing. If you've only read the Moomin books you might wonder how adult fiction would sit with your pleasure of these. Would it jar? Not a bit of it. They are all one and the same, I couldn't imagine how that would be until I started reading her adult fiction. Each reflects a new light upon the other and the light is good. You realise, if you didn't before, how adult her Moomin books are and you likewise hear and feel the child's clarity of vision and pure but eccentric sense of truth chiming through the adult work. The short stories in the collection occupy a borderland between autobiography and fiction. Many stories are memorialised moments of her childhood. They are all utterly spellbinding, the world they describe is far away and long ago but is vivid, intense and compelling. it is a shock to come back to the surface and find yourself in the early 21st century.
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on 22 January 2007
Tove Jansson's "A Winter Book" cherry-picks short stories from her autobiographical "A Sculptor's Daughter" and adds later gems to deliver an unforgettable collection of work. Her cool, clear gaze takes in vivid moments from childhood (check "The Stone" and the stunning image left by "The Iceberg") through to the unsentimental, yet very poignant, "Taking Leave" which deals with some of the problems of ageing and coming to terms with failing powers.

Tove Jansson was an extraordinary children's writer, and it's great to see some of her work for adults finally translated into English. And what a lovely job Sort Of have done: good, clean cover design, and intelligent use of photographs throughout. Ali Smith's introduction does justice to Jansson's writing. Very few children's authors have the capability to write for adults also. Tove Jansson's honesty, clarity and sense of humour shine throughout.
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on 27 November 2006
I can't resist sharing Body Tonkin's verdict on this wonderful book in The Independent. He devoted his entire column to a review, after first raging about the "snowdrift of Christmas drivel" filling bookshops this winter.

The ideal book for Christmas, he contended, would "honour the experiences and insights of children without sentiment or condescension. It might also salute the changing seasons with a toughly tender eye on wild nature. In doing so, it might even register the passage of time, and the ageing of body and mind, while steering clear of self-pity. And it might (like an unfeasibly flawless companion) contrive to sound charming, funny, sympathetic, wise - and a bit mysterious as well."

"What price would such a paragon command?" Tonkin continued. "£6.99 to be exact. Ideal presents never quite take on tangible form, but A Winter Book comes fairly close...
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on 8 June 2016
I didn't really 'get' this book. I thought it was a collection of stories based on events in the author's life but I'm not entirely sure how much is autobiography and how much is fiction. I didn't understand or like the charater(s). She/they seemed spoilt and I didn't understand her/their intentions or why she was/they were acting like she was/they were.

Some of the descriptions were lovely but on the whole I just didn't enjoy it much.
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on 2 November 2006
Well done for reissuing the fantastic The Summer Book last time, and even better, for giving us something new by Tove Jansson now. There's a wealth of material there, and wonderful as the Moomin books are, it's great to have the chance to read more of her adult writing. One of the best writers ever. More please.
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on 18 March 2007
This review is per pro the Appleton Book Club (6? members) from N.Yorkshire and we had previously read The Summer Book.

We did not think, on one reading, that this collection of short stories was equal to The Summer Book. Some of the first stories in the collection were felt to be a tad muddled, though the word 'muddled' doesn't quite say it and no one will want to read an essay on it here.

However, overall consensus was that it was a pleasure and privelege to read it. Snow, The Iceberg, The Squirrel and; Taking Leave all received a lot of praise with many other enduring images to treasure from amongst the other stories.

Jansson has a fantastic gift for selecting almost miraculously appropriate observations in order to describe a thing with tedium defying brevity.

The book continues, understandably enough, Jansson's theme of the child mind and the child-like, and the insights into the realities of the human experience which this view point can reveal. Although, again, read The Summer Book for the ultimate expression (?) of Jansson's thoughts on this, the convergence/divergence between youth and old age.

The book itself publ. by 'Sort of Books' is well laid out, easy to read, pleasant to hold and has several insightful and appropriate black and white photo's from the Jansson (?) archive. It is a short read which will gift to you many 'permanent possessions of the mind'.

Happy reading,

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Tove Jansson's short stories are beautifully constructed without a doubt. Her use of language (and its translation here) is artful and evocotive, and her sense of place is skillfully transmitted to the reader through these tales.
However, they seemed to skate along on the surface of the subject, giving a glimpse of something powerful but never the whole emotion. I'm a fan of the short story form and always appreciate it when an author can drag me into a new reality with unfamiliar characters -- and pull off a dramatic wallop (or at the very least a knowing smile or wince) at the conclusion of each tale.
Yet I read the Winter stories with an increasing sense of distance and a lack of fulfilment. They're a technical tour de force -- but they just didn't dig themselves into my consciousness. Reading them was a bit like visiting an art gallery with a curious sense of disappointment; I could tell that I should be enjoying them but it just wasn't happening.
Maybe they're just too deft, and too intangible. For me, anyway.
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on 16 May 2016
I hadn’t heard of Jansson prior to buying this collection of short stories, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. However, I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to read some seasonal stories. I’ve since found out that the author was the creator of the Moomins, which is a very popular series for children. This collection is vastly different, however.All of the stories relate to Jansson’s own upbringing in Finland. Whether they are 100% autobiographical, one cannot tell. However, it is clear that both her and her parents are protagonists throughout. This brings a deeper sense of reality to the writing; the stories feel observational and accurate in their telling.

What lacks, perhaps, is the diversity of style and subject that other short story collections bring. There is a calm to each of the stories, as if nostalgically looking at the author’s life, and this can leave them short of the drama and tension that I enjoy seeing build. However, bringing drama for its own sake would bring a falseness that Jansson manages to shy away from in A Winter Book. There is little to directly link with the theme of Winter and yet, in its Finnish setting, it seems blindingly obvious that this theme runs throughout. It is beautifully and yet simply portrayed.

Having read a number of short stories of late, many of them surprising in their content, A Winter Book was a smoother journey. It is remarkably descriptive, but without drive in its plot, allowing the reader to be fully immersed in the landscape. Whilst it doesn’t have the narrative tension I am used to, it is the sort of book you really want to curl up with, away from the chilly weather.
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