Book Review: Fair Play by Tove Jansson

Jun 9, 2019

Fair Play by Tove Jansson

Fair Play is the type of love story that is rarely told, a revelatory depiction of contentment, hard-won and exhilarating.

Mari is a write and Jonna is an artist, and they live at opposite ends of a big apartment building, their studios connected by a long attic passageway. They have argued, worked, and laughed together for decades. Yet they’ve never really stopped taking each other by surprise. Fair Play shows us Mari and Jonna’s intertwined lives as they watch Fassbinder films and Westerns, critiques each other’s work, spend time on a solitary island (recognizable to readers of Jansson’s The Summer Book), travel through the American Southwest, and turn life into nothing less than art.

Mari and Jonna seemed like unlikely lovers to me at first, considering how different they are at times. Mari doesn’t like Joanna’s Westerns and is a little avoidant (she loves announcing that she’s going to bed when things gets awkward). Joanna is a bit stubborn and doesn’t hesitate saying whatever is on her mind. But somehow they just work. They critique each others work, share stories about their parents, meet friends old and new, and travel together.

There is something very touching about this book of vignettes. Nothing really happens in this book. It’s just a series of small moments in people’s lives. But they are precious moments, no matter how small. In a way, it reminds me of Woolf’s stream of consciousness. There’s no plot and very few big events. It’s just the characters living out their lives, slowly revealing more and more of themselves with every single word.

While I was reading this book, I paused to jot down some thoughts. It’s been a while since I’ve encountered a book that made me want to do so.

Here’s what I wrote:

I’m astounded at how honest these two are with each other. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say they don’t get along. Is fighting a form of intimacy?

And later:

I think I found what kind of books I like. I like books that reveal something about a person. I much prefer understanding a character.

Somewhat fragmented and incomplete thoughts but thoughts nevertheless.

Overall, I think this is the book that has intrigued me the most this year so far. I think I just like down-to-earth “slice of life” books. It’s definitely not the only type of books I like (my well-worn copy of The Lost Years of Merlin is staring back at me longingly from the bookself) but lately that’s what I’ve been craving. Fair Play scratched that itch!


  • We’re busy with work. And falling in love and that takes a lot of time.
  • 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.
  • You can’t repeat. It’s the wrong ending.
  • She fell asleep instantly before she even had time to realize how unhappy she was.