Wednesday, August 19, 2009

`He Finds Things He Never Expected'

“Gathering is peculiar, because you see nothing but what you’re looking for. If you’re picking raspberries, you see only what’s red, and if you’re looking for bones you see only the white.”

I know from recent experience it’s possible to gather without knowing what you’re looking for. In Cleveland I gathered memories, ideas about American painting and its link to American writing and what my brother called “totems” – a white oak branch heavy with acorns, gingko fruit and leaves, a yellow-brown leaf from a tulip tree. I also know what Tove Jansson means in her novel The Summer Book, the source of the passage above. It seems a universal human trait, and a severely mixed blessing, to see what we want to see and discard the rest. I read The Summer Book this morning on the flight from Cleveland to Seattle, based on an endorsement from Nige:

“Unsentimental, brusque even, and often quite funny, it creates a self-contained world that entirely convinces - partly because of Jansson's gift for sharp close observation - and casts a spell that is all its own.”

The novel, perhaps the first by a Finn I have ever read, fit the flight perfectly. At 179 pages in the New York Review Books edition, I finished reading it about 30 minutes before landing, leaving time to finish the crossword puzzle in the airline magazine. The novels it most reminded me of were Per Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses and William Maxwell’s So Long, See You Tomorrow. All deal with children and are narrated in voices at once reticent and powerfully emotional. Midway through the novel Jansson writes:

“A person can find anything if he takes the time, that is, if he can afford to look. And while he’s looking, he’s free, and he finds things he never expected.”

1 comment:

Buce said...

You never read about the Moomins?

Tove Jansson was a birth-certificate Finn but she wrote in Swedish. She was also a Lesbian and so has recognition in at least two other (um, cultures? Communities? Ethnic niches?). The Finns are happy to claim her, though, and who can blame them?