Over the last few years Sort of Books have been doing an brilliant job of publishing translations of Tove Jansson’s adult fiction.The latest is Thomas Teal’s gentle, subtle translation of this collection of stories. The Listener was Tove’s first story collection and was first published in 1971.
The story that gives the collection its name tells the story of an old lady mapping her family in an attempt to preserve memories fading with age.it sets the scene for many of the following stories, many of which feature closely observed characters. Tove’s ability to portray the minutia of character is the thread that links the stories. In many nothing happens but you finish each with just a bit more understanding of people and their travails.
Some of the stories stay with you long after you finish them. The last story in the book, The Squirrel, tells of the relationship between a solitary island dweller and a squirrel. For the lonely, alcoholic woman the squirrel becomes a fixation; unrequited love for the squirrel fills her days. Trying to attract its attention, avoiding scaring it it takes over all her actions. As comment on the difficulties of human relationships the story stays with you.
Don’t read this for the stories, read it for the characters you meet.
Well the good news is my arms have recovered from lugging this around! It’s a superbly crafted tale that ranges across a whole swathe of American contemporary cultures from the well to do apartments of New York to the neo-slum outskirts of LA. There’s plenty of drugs, booze, lying and general nastiness set against characters with old school values and deep honesty.
The central character is not wholly likeable and it takes a while to care for him but once you cross that bridge you find yourself eagerly racing through his story rooting for him all the way. The episodes in his life, at first seemingly unrelated with just the Goldfinch theme tying them together, gradually conflate into a surprising and shocking ending. The story telling skill is unquestionably brilliant and wholly deserving of the wide praise it’s received. Overall quite brilliant.