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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Fair Play

Tove Jansson

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To purchase Fair Play

Title: Fair Play
Author: Tove Jansson
Genre: Novel
Written: 1989 (Eng. 2007)
Length: 127 pages
Original in: Swedish
Availability: Fair Play - US
Fair Play - UK
Fair Play - Canada
Fair Play - India
  • Swedish title: Rent spel
  • Translated by Thomas Teal
  • Introduction by Ali Smith

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Our Assessment:

B+ : appealing, delicate

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 12/5/2007 Olivia Laing
The Telegraph . 14/6/2007 Katie Owen
TLS A 20/7/2007 Andreas Campomar
World Lit. Today . 5-6/2011 Colin Fleming

  From the Reviews:
  • "Though beset by comic misunderstandings and monumental sulks (notably over the shooting of a gull on the couple's tiny island), Mari and Jonna appear to have discovered the secret of happiness: a combination of work, love, steak and coffee." - Olivia Laing, The Guardian

  • "(R)eading this thoughtful book feels like a privileged form of eavesdropping." - Katie Owen, The Telegraph

  • "This skilfully weighted novel -- essentially a series of seventeen linked episodes -- is a portrayal of the most intimate of human relationships. Jansson is unconcerned with conventional plot devices, content to let the narrative almost disappear into what Hegel called the "prose of the world": the beauty of the day-to-day. It is here, in between the episodes of action, in the incidental detail, that we find the true meaning of the novel." - Andreas Campomar, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Were it possible to measure novels in decibels, as though the action left some sonic footprint on the world, Tove Jansson's Fair Play would perhaps emit the lowest levels. It is a quiet novel, but unlike most such novels, which proceed at a leisurely pace, Fair Play is a page-turner." - Colin Fleming, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Fair Play is a slight-looking novel, barely a hundred pages long, its seventeen chapters separate and essentially unconnected episodes. The book centres on the lives of two artists, Jonna and Mari, who live:

at opposite ends of a large apartment building near the harbour, and between their studios lay an attic, an impersonal no-man's-land of tall corridors with locked plank doors on either side.
       Each chapter focusses on a generally minor episode: watching Fassbinder videos, visiting 'the Great City of Phoenix', Jonna taking on (and spoiling) an art-pupil, being at sea in a small boat when the fog rolls in.
       The conversation and interaction between the two women is the almost everyday communication between the intimately familiar, like that in any family or between loved ones, yet the artists are also very much distinct personalities. It makes for a delicate, often understated narrative. Occasionally it flares up -- "Thank you very much. It's all very well and good for you. What do you care about the meaning of life ?" -- but as often as not it's almost anti-climatically subdued:
     They waited, but nothing more happened.
       Jansson is particularly good at playing with the underlying tensions of any relationship -- culminating in the final chapter, when Jonna has an opportunity to spend a year in Paris, but would not be able to take Mari along: each is torn by the idea of being apart, and yet each also sees it as an opportunity -- summed up in the book's closing scene:
     Mari was hardly listening. A daring thought was taking shape in her mind. She began to anticipate a solitude of her own, peaceful and full of possibility. She felt something close to exhilaration, of a kind that people can permit themselves when they are blessed with love.
       Fair Play can feel like a very loose collection of episodes from these two lives, but Jansson's soft touch (and gentle humour) and the variety (including of obsessions, from filming everything to visiting cemeteries) make for a very appealing read.

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Fair Play: Reviews: Tove Jansson: Other books by Tove Jansson under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Swedish-writing Finnish author Tove Jansson (1914-2001) is best known for her 'Moomin' stories.

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