JUDY KRAVIS

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Thursday, 15 September 2022

Tove Jansson, The True Deceiver

A wet, warm afternoon in September, the stove going, nonetheless, and a Tove Jansson novel, The True Deceiver, about a young woman and her younger brother who is thought simple, about the machinations of a village during the northern winter, and how the sister contrives to move with her brother into the Rabbit House, home of wealthy artist Anna Aemelin. who makes books for children. 

I came to Tove Jansson through The Summer Book, which I first read in Bill and Katy's spare bedroom in Brampton, where I stayed while I was clearing out my father's house after he had died. With my brother. My brother and sister story resides there, if anywhere. The Summer Book was a rescue book. No plot, just situations on an island, in a family, the fragility of moss, the etiquette of islands. 

I didn't read the Moomin books until it was too late. There's only one chance to read children's books. Only one first time on a clean plate. The Moomins read at thirty or forty are too coy to be poetry, too cosy to be true. Maybe Tove Jansson thought so too, by the time she started writing for adults. Which is to say replacing one set of symbols for another.

Katri Kling, the unwilling, maybe sullen, maybe witching, viewpoint of The True Deceiver, has yellow eyes and so has her dog. Her dog has no name. Everything is with a view to further reversals or revelations in the snowiest winter anyone can remember. By the end it seems as if Anna Aemelin is the winner. Released by the yellow-eyed woman and her brother from the need to add rabbits to the ground she painted for her children's books.

Tarjei Vesaas' brother and sister in The Birds revolved around the simplicity of the brother. Tove Jansson has not fully entered Katri Kling. She is observing her. She's not sure why Katri Kling sets her sights on Anna Aemelin's Rabbit House. I'm not sure either. 



Tuesday, 6 September 2022

Delta Wedding by Eudora Welty

I started Delta Wedding on Castle Island last week. In that wide-open space, with only singular lives barely intersecting—a fat gull, a slim moon, a hare, and four seals—a vast plantation family in the Mississippi delta full tilt towards a wedding, is too much. 

Back home, looking out on the cut field, or awake at night, I can manage a crowded family with names running out at all angles: Battle, India, Shelley, Dabney, Troy, Man Son, Partheny, Roxie, Ranny, Bluet and Pinck, a flurry of aunts to rival P.G. Wodehouse, some with men's names, all with culinary specialities and other quirks. I can't have anyone in the kitchen while I'm making the cornucopias, I can't have anyone making beaten biscuits. around me, says one of them, Studney, Tempe, Primrose or Jim Allen.

This is a plantation organism, a family and its town, Fairchilds, its houses, servants, climate, seasons, its fair children humming underfoot. Space to reflect is hardwon. As we know. Here is Robbie, married to George, the Fairchild darling, who causes the moon to hang in the sky, striking out on her own. 

Here she was—Robbie, making her way, stamping her feet in the pink Fairchild dust, at a very foolish time of day to be out unprotected. There was not one soul to know she was desperate and angry.

The wedding itself almost vanishes under the tide of people it supports and the preparations they have all made. After the wedding of her second daughter, Ellen Fairchild, wife of Battle Fairchild, reflects on the rarity of time for reflection. She watches the dancing. She tries to encompass the family before her. 

She saw George among the dancers, walking though, looking for somebody too. Suddenly she wished she might talk to George. It was the wrong time—she never actually had time to sit down and fill her eyes with people and hear what they said, in any civilised way. Now he was dancing, even a little drunk, she believed—this was a time for celebration, or regret, not for talk, not ever for talk.

Aunt Ellen is Burt Lancaster as the Leopard, il gattopardo, walking away from the wedding feast of his two fine young people, Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale. And then, in a deft and glorious pursuit of family exactitude, she continues:

As he looked in her direction, all at once she saw into his mind as if he had come dancing out it leaving it unlocked, laughingly inviting here to the unexpected intimacy. She saw his mind—as if it too were inversely lighted up by the failing paper lanterns— lucid and tortuous: so that any act on his part might be startling, isolated in its very subtlety from the action of all those around him, springing from long, dark, previous, abstract thought and direct apprehension, instead of explainable, Fairchild impulse.