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The Woman Who Borrowed Memories: Selected Stories

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  317 ratings  ·  52 reviews
An NYRB Classics Original
Tove Jansson was a master of brevity, unfolding worlds at a touch. Her art flourished in small settings, as can be seen in her bestselling novel The Summer Book and in her internationally celebrated cartoon strips and books about the Moomins. It is only natural, then, that throughout her life she turned again and again to the short story. The Wo
Paperback, 283 pages
Published 2014 by New York Book Review Classics
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3.97  · 
Rating details
 ·  317 ratings  ·  52 reviews

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Nov 06, 2018 added it
It wasn't intentional, I promise. I was just waiting for a book to come in the mail. So I picked up - re-picked up - this collection of short stories thinking I could bang out a few more and then set it aside until another interlude occurred. But that same day, doing my morning ritual of breakfast-post office-used bookstore, I found Haruki Murakami's Men With Women at a shaved price.

I found myself reading a couple of hers, then one of his. Couple of hers, one of his. And, well, there's no way
Jan 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Teresa by: Tony
Tony charged me with reading this— …de-numb the world! was his exhortation. I was a willing foot-soldier having already read two of Jansson’s works, including A Winter Book which shares a few of the same stories with this volume, “The Squirrel,” “Traveling Light,” “Correspondence,” “Messages”: they were a pleasure to read again.

I started this book over the holidays—the perfect time to read short stories like these—and doled them out to myself one per evening. I could’ve rushed through the stor
Diane S ☔
Jul 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
Although I find it very unusual to like every story in a book of shorts, in this one I can say I did. There was something that attracted me to each of these stories. There were of course a few standouts, one of which was titled The Squirrel. The sense of urgency, the loneliness and desperation of this woman living alone on an island and how she was so happy to see the squirrel and so desperate to have it stay. There is a twist here because I never really could figure out if the squirrel was actu ...more
Jul 14, 2018 marked it as to-read
I haven't even started reading this yet, but already I'm irritated by it. Comparing it with the other Tove Jansson books currently on my shelves, I see that at least half the stories in it I already own in two other collections, Travelling Light and Art in Nature (but not all of the stories from those books are included), and I think there's also overlap with the one I can't check right now, A Winter Book. The explanation is clear enough -- Sort of Books, the UK publisher currently reviving her ...more
Tove Jansson to me is Mommin, as she is undoubtedly is too many people. But I’ve discovered that her adult work is just as enjoyable and has a wonderful, if sometimes perverted (which makes it better) sense of humor.
This is a collection of various short stories, and while I didn’t enjoy every short story it is a very good collection.
My favorite is mostly likely the one that is dedicated to Edward Gorey, “Black-White”. This story, like most of the others in the collection is about creator and c
J.M. Hushour
May 14, 2018 rated it did not like it
That ultra-rare beast, the awful NYRB selection.
And man, these are dreadful. It's surprising, though, because Jansson was the creator of the "Moomin" weirdness for kids, which I remembered tangentially encountering at some point in the early 80s, and found memorable somehow. Unfortunately, there is nothing to commend these terrible stories even to an idiotic child, or man-child for that matter. These are uninspiring, with only vague hints at captivating whimsy or weirdness. I found myself gaily
Brent Legault
Aug 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Jansson's tales unspool in the strangest ways while rarely resorting to Twilight Zone twists.* Her language is usually written from a great distance. (Is there such a thing as 4th or even 5th person narration?) But they won't fail to move you. And you'll be moved often if you read them all. Readers, like you and me, have their pick of favorites. Mine was The Summer Child. I don't know why it took me so long to come across that story, to incorporate it into my own inner mythology. How have I live ...more
Daniel Polansky
I have great esteem for Janson (despite never having actually read the Moomen. Moomin?) as (ugh) a writer’s writer, in the sense of having ferociously on point language, a complexity and peculiarity of viewpoint, etc. My expectations might have been a little unrealistic given how much I loved loved loved Fair Play, but not all of these quite hit for me. There are a couple of masterful cuts – The Squirrel, for instance, I really liked – but there were a fair few that didn’t have quite the tightne ...more
Jul 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
I received an ARC from The New York Review of Books through Edelweiss.

This collection of short stories is divided into four sections, the first of which is entitled "The Listener" and was originally published in 1971. I found the stories in this part of the collection to have a dream-like, almost surreal quality to them. In the story that is the title to the collection, "The Listener", a woman who is called Aunt Gerda has always been a great listener to her family. She listens intently to all of
Sugar Hiccups
Mar 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
All her short stories are more or less actually complete novels. I find it amazing that she packs so much in a few pages. I found it hard to understand initially but the sentence that ultimately endeared me to her work unfolded on page 44 in The Squirrel - "She didn't care about a dog anymore. Dogs are dangerous, they react to everything immediately, they're distinctly sympathetic animals. A squirrel was better." It's difficult to describe the magic but this sentence could explain how and why so ...more
Dec 31, 2014 added it
A wonderful book to dip in and out of, pick up and put down. Tove Jansson always seems to capture the 'quiet' moments of life that aren't actually quiet at all. There's no strong driving plot but astute observation & interpretation of people and the world.
Oct 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Tove Jansson has come to be one of my most beloved writers. She creates these insanely sinister worlds with so little cheer that it sends shivers down your spine as you read through the pages. She sees so much and is then able to articulate it so well that the emotions transcend the process of translation and come straight to you. There is immense loneliness in her writing, and a severe recognition that despite any relations you may have, your world is still your own. The inability to share it w ...more
Apr 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
I couldn't help it. I compared every single story in this collection to the Moomintrolls. Sometimes multiple times per story. "Oh, this is just like the Moomintrolls!" "Hmmm, this is hardly anything like the Moomintrolls." It's a sickness, and it certainly distracted me quite a bit from these beautiful little stories. The upside was that reading these stories helped me to understand and articulate just why I love the Moomintrolls so dearly. Jansson has a talent for simplifying a story to its cor ...more
Jun 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
Lots of good stuff in here...a collection of short pieces from decades of the Finnish writer/artist Tove Jansson's work. Mostly short stories. There's also some poetic correspondence from a 13-year-old Japanese fan, some letters from Tove to a friend, and some weird hate mail from readers. If you already like Tove Jansson, you'll like this one too. If you're not familiar with Tove Jansson, you don't know what you're missing: an isolated, elderly, philosphical, Finnish lesbian artist who never wa ...more
Austen to Zafón
Sep 19, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: own-tp, short-stories
Like most short story collections, there was some unevenness. Some stories were excellent, some mediocre. But even a mediocre story by Jansson is better than most short stories I've read. She tackles the topics of loneliness, aging, relatives, anxiety, passion, and obsession with such originality. While I liked her Summer Book much more, this was still worth reading.
May 29, 2016 rated it liked it
I can tell these are quality stories but I didn't really feel connected to any of them. I will say that Jansson knows how to do creeping weird. Favorite stories from the collection: Black-White, The Squirrel, The Doll's House, A Leading Roll, White Lady, The Summer Child, Traveling Light, and The Garden of Eden.
Tom Hughes
Nov 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
So good! her sensibility is not for everyone, she sees a world of sinister developments hiding behind the humdrum. (Her children's books are the opposite -- seemingly sinister events turn out to have friendly, family-ish meanings). Anyway, I loved it.
Lindsey P
Aug 23, 2015 rated it did not like it
I read about 8 of the short stories and that was enough. All disturbing and not in a good way.

I rarely quit reading a book once I start but this will have to go in that pile unfortunately.
Jun 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I'd sworn not to give anymore stars to anyone (doesn't seem fair somehow), but this book is worth it.
Dec 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: owned-fiction
RIYL Shirley Jackson, Lydia Davis, perfection. I am so mad that I have no more tove jansson books in my house rn
Nov 10, 2015 rated it liked it
A mixed bag containing a few gem-like stories that illuminate a particular point, and many stories that mystified me as to why they needed to be written. Too subtle for a lunkhead like me? Perhaps.
Jan 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Rarely has the short story form been so thoroughly mastered. Jansson is something else.
Jan 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Beautiful anguish and art and birds.
Oct 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
When I think of writers who have mastered the art of capturing light and optical phenomena in general, there are two names that spring to my mind: Vladimir Nabokov and Tove Jansson.
My job is to paint with light, that’s all that is. The right light at the right time, writes Jansson in a short story called The Garden of Eden. And in most of the stories included in The Woman Who Borrowed Memories, a collection including short fiction selected from five of her books published between 1971-1998, she
May 12, 2017 rated it liked it
Some of these short stories were like eating a chunk of good chocolate, left you really wanting more. I really enjoyed the ones in particular set in her native Finland, often on small islands. The isolation, the weather, the introspection. One story about a burnt out newspaper comic strip writer is surely at least semi-autobiographical. I'm glad she moved on from the Moomins, her adult writing is far superior.
Dec 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I've read a few of Jansson's translated story collections, but if someone asked me where to start with her short fiction, I would point them here. The titular story was worth the read alone--I found it genuinely disturbing, and the fact that Jansson (and her translator) pulled it off in just a handful of pages is remarkable.
Karen Heuler
Feb 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
3.5. I read the first story and thought: Oh My God! I'm about to be INFLUENCED! A terrifying thought. I should be unafraid of influences at this point in my life, and in fact by the second story I was already abandoning my fears. Yes, she's an impressive writer, but as I went on I found the claustrophobia too restrictive, the intensity of the narrowness not at all my ongoing ice cream.
Possibly a 3.5 if goodreads gave half-stars, but the collection was a bit frontloaded for my taste to round up
Jun 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
I've very much enjoyed her writing, it's well done, but often rather dark, so there is that, if you are not feeling like depression. Intelligent and perceptive though.
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Tove Jansson was born and died in Helsinki, Finland. As a Finnish citizen whose mother tongue was Swedish, she was part of the Swedish-speaking Finns minority. Thus, all her books were originally written in Swedish.

Although known first and foremost as an author, Tove Jansson considered her careers as author and painter to be of equal importance.

Tove Jansson wrote and illustrated her first Moomin
“Alexander was in the grip of a passion for perfection. He was not aware of how closely, how perilously, perfectionism and fanaticism are related.” 2 likes
“But I was held down to earth by being constantly reminded that the world expects much of the gifted and that having talent is never an excuse for not using it.” 1 likes
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