Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

The Listener, by Tove Jansson & Christmas Days, by Jeanette Winterson

By sheer coincidence, my Christmas goodies included two collections of short stories by two different lesbian authors, and I think it makes a neat pair to review together. Not, mind you, that the two collections have anything much more in common with each other than two collections both by straight men would have; it's more that the two of them have approched the craft of writing in interestingly different ways.

The Listener, by Tove Jansson

Second paragraph of third story ("The Birthday Party"):
"Couldn't you wait with that?" said Vera Häger. "They'll be here any moment. I think we should greet them together. I'm not used to..."
This is the most recent of Jansson's story collections to be translated into English, but it was the first collection of Tove Jansson's short stories to be published in her native Swedish (apart from the semi-autobiographical The Scupltor's Daughter). They show her already at the top of her form, quietly understated observation, sometimes brief vignettes, sometimes mapping out a brief section of a character arc that you can extrapolate further if you want. The two that particularly jumped out at me are both about a third of the way in, "Black-White", a tribute to Edward Gorey, about an illustrator who becomes consumed by his work, and "Letters to an Idol", no doubt inspired by her own experiences on both ends of the fannish dynamic, about obsession, communication and acceptance. But they are all good, and give a real feeling of life in Jansson's Bohemian urban and rural spaces.

Christmas Days: 12 Stories and 12 Feasts for 12 Days, by Jeanette Winterson

Second paragraph of third story ("Dark Christmas"):
Highfallen House stood on an eminence overlooking the sea. It was a square Victorian gentleman's residence. The large bay windows looked down through the pines towards the shore. Six stone steps led the visitor up to the double front door where a Gothic bell-pull released a loud mournful clang deep into the distances of the house.
This is much more intense stuff, a collection of stories with a Christmassy theme (nine or ten of the twelve have supernatural elements, so I'm putting it in my sf basket). The stories are interspersed with reminiscences about Winterson's own life, and people who she has loved - deceased friends, such as Ruth Rendell and Kathy Acker; her parents; her wife Susie Orbach; and also Christmassy recipes. None of the recipes is particularly original or startling, but it's a nice extra set of content to put alongside the stories themselves. I had not read any of Winterson's fiction before, and I honestly did not expect the stories to be so funny.

The two authors are coming from very different places - Jansson from a well-off city backgrouod, with liberal parents and friends and connections to her country's elite from an early age; Winterson from a small town and an oppressive household dominatred by religious ideology, from which she has negotiated escape on her own terms. Both collections are great, in very different ways.

On another topic entirely, I think this will be the last post I put directly onto Livejournal. There has been no resolution of the bugginess of the last couple of days, and the news that the servers have all physically been transferred to Russia may not be unrelated. I will post to Dreamwidth, cross-posted to here for now; I don't promise to check my friends page here regularly, and unfortunately the Japanese spam problem that Imentioned last year has started to overwhelm my comment notifications, so posting a comment here is unlikely to be an efficient way of getting my attention. Sad, but there you go.
Tags: bookblog 2016, livejournal, writer: jeanette winterson, writer: tove jansson
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