At first glance Tove Jannson's Fair Play is simply a collection of stories about two female artists living together in their old age. It is semi-autobiographical, with Tove being the fictional Marie, and her lifelong partner, graphic designer Tuulikka Pietelä, being Johanna. Tove is of course the author and creator of the Moomin series of childrens' books, which spawned a large number of television programmes popular in the 1970s and 80s, and to this day.
Marie and Johanna divide their time between a large apartment in Helsinki and a tiny island of the coast of southern Finland, across the channel from Estonia. Both women have a strong commitment to their work, and while living as partners, they also create plenty of personal space for their artistic preparation and reflection.
As in Tove's books, The Summer Book and A Winter Book, on the face of it, nothing much happens. However it is in the minutiae of their daily life together that forms the real core of the book and if there is a message at all, it is about making the most of each moment of the day, and appreciating everything that is around you - this almost Buddhist message comes across strongly in these simple stories.
The two women generally get along and share much of their lives together, but they also argue, they get jealous, and they often irritate each other. On the other hand, they both understand the rhythms of each other's lives, and they both understand the creative process and its tensions.
The forward by Ali Smith offers useful scene-setting, and I think I agree with her that this is "a novel with a profound sense of discretion at its core" - a lot isn't said, and a lot of conversation between these women doesn't need to be said out loud. They understand each other and realise that sometimes when up against a brick wall, you don't have to keep battering your head against it, but can simply walk around the side of it.
I can't say this is a great work of literature, but I do know that sometimes it is good to read the words of people like Tove Jannson who lived the life they were meant to live with uncompromising artistic integrity.