A Moomin mother’s day

It probably says something about the mature attitude I bring to the business of parenting that my favourite fictional mother is in a children’s book, but there you go. The best guide to the business of being a mum that I’ve ever read is Tove Jansson’s Moomin series, and in my regular moments of floundering under my responsibilities to the small people I’ve generated, I’ve often resorted to pretending that I’m Moominmamma.

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My year in books 2011

When I decided I was going to write a review of my reading year, I had a bit of an anxious moment: totting up my annual literary consumption, it seemed that I hadn’t read very much at all. I was wrong, it was just that I’d blanked out the 4,576 pages of George RR Martin’s A Song Of Ice And Fire sequence that dominated my recreation hours between March and September. My original plan was to read just the first novel, then pick up the second after the second TV series, and so on. I did not do that.

Instead, I became a dragon-fevered fantasy obsessive for a season, tugged along from book to book by some downright cynical plotting – Martin breaks the story up into various POV chapters, and he exploits this constantly to withhold information and generate cliffhangers. As much as I couldn’t stop reading, I’m not sure if I’d definitely recommend to anyone else. For one thing, at least two books’ worth of plot points are invented just to be whimsically annihilated later on. For another, the story still isn’t finished, meaning there’s an outside chance that I could be cheated out of an ending even after reading all those pages. Continue reading

“When one’s dead, one’s dead”: the wisdom of Moomins

There’s a view that the fantastical is a failing in children’s literature. In the 2009 BBC4 series Picture Book, Shirley Hughes (author and illustrator of the finely observed Alfie books) explained her scrupulous realism like this: small children have so much work to do simply coming to terms with what is that it’s unfair to tell them stories about things that aren’t. Fairy stories and supernatural characters are a distraction at best, at worst a sort of dishonesty that obscures the child’s view of their own world. Continue reading