Moominvalley in November
by Tove Jansson
In the last original novel about the Moomins, the Moominfamily itself does not actually appear. One can't help but feel a sense of loss about this. And as much as one may love the company of Moominpappa, Moomintroll, and Little My, it is the loss of Moominmamma that one feels most deeply. Perhaps this is connected to the death of the author's mother in 1970, the year this book was written. This book also signals a growing maturity in Jansson's writing; from this point on all her books were written for adults. So with a sense of bittersweet farewell, we sense the Moomin series growing up and going away forever. Some would even say this book is about letting go.
Don't worry, though. Nothing has happened to the Moomins, nothing (that is) that we haven't already read about in Moominpappa at Sea. But while the Moominfamily is away on their lighthouse adventure, their cozy house isn't empty. Six of their friends just happen, all at once, to come for a visit. They are surprised, disappointed, even in some cases angry to find the Moomins (especially Moominmamma) from home. But they stay anyway, learning to live with each other's peccadilloes and helping one another solve the problems that brought them all to Mamma's doorstep.
First, there's Snufkin, who has turned back from his footloose wanderings in search of a tune. He just wants to be left alone, but everyone needs his friendship. Only when he has helped them all find what they need does the elusive melody come to him.
Then there's a Fillyjonk: one of those tall, thin, long-nosed creatures who cope with their anxieties by cooking and cleaning. After a near-fatal cleaning mishap, she finds herself paralyzed by fear. She correctly guesses that she can't overcome her terrors by herself. The surprise for her is the form her cure will take, as she takes up Moominmamma's apron and shares with others the healing power of food.
A third guest is a Hemulen: the big, bossy type who always wants to arrange other people's lives for them. One day the Hemulen suddenly realizes that his life is pointless. He decides that the thing to do is talk with Moominpappa, who always seems to be doing something interesting. His quest is to find out that it's OK if you can't change the world.
Filling out the guest list are the vain, saucy Mymble; the defiantly forgetful Grandpa-Grumble; and the tiny, scruffy Toft who uses the power of his imagination to conjure things that he describes to himself into reality. As, one by one, each of the guests finds what he or she needs and departs, you will be increasingly moved by what they learn about each other and about themselves. And when the final guest is left, the most basic need will be revealed.
Some might call this a melancholy book. I have even read reviews that accused it, almost, of misanthropy. On the contrary, it is a very warm, comforting, uplifting tale that brings people together, and that may teach us to understand ourselves better. Frequently funny, constantly touching, populated by vibrant and sympathetic characters, and decorated with charming illustrations, it speaks with a poet's knack for bringing word-pictures to life.
My only quibble is this novel's tendency toward run-on sentences (frequently using a comma where a period would be better), an annoying habit that is not evident in any of the other Moomin tales. All the same, I am pleased with it and with Kingsley Hart's sensitive translation work as a whole. And I can now gladly recommend this entire series to all families with sensitive, thoughtful children. I am already looking forward to giving a set as a gift. But when I do so, the best part of the gift will have come from Tove Jansson herself.
St. Louis, USA
Recommended Age: 11+
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