Tales of Tove
By LUCY DALLAS
Until the end of August, the ICA is home to a small exhibition of photographs of Tove Jansson, best known as the creator of the Moomins (for children) but also the author of brilliant, spare short stories and novels (for adults). The distinction feels even more artificial than usual in this case; the Moomin books are far from cute and heart-warming, as the marketing would have you believe. There is plenty of solitude, angst and fear in these stories, and no shying away from unpleasant facts, whereas the "grown-up" writing is clear, simple and resonant.
To English readers familiar primarily with her books, it comes as a surprise to learn how popular the Moomin comic-strips were – featured in 120 papers across the world at their height. Jansson needed time away from the pressure and escaped, with her partner Tuulikki Pietila, to a remote Finnish island, Klovharu, where they were the only (human) inhabitants. Jansson called it an "angry island", and the conditions there could be hard – there are photos of Jansson sawing logs, mending fishing nets – and sometimes the weather would cut them off entirely. Yet there is fun along with the hard work; we see Jansson swimming with a wreath of flowers on her head, and walking barefoot, with a flash of red toenail – not quite as austere as one might think. There is also a beautiful shot of Jansson feeding her pet seagull; the bird is hovering, with a morsel in its beak, just taken from the outstretched bowl.