Although I don’t live in Dulwich any more (haven’t you heard? There’ve been a lot of murders there lately…) I pop back as often as I can, partly to replenish stocks of my book, Death in Dulwich, in the brilliant local bookshops Village Books, Dulwich Bookshops and Herne Hill Books, and partly just for love of the place. Last weekend I did a round trip with a boot full of signed copies and went to the Picture Gallery for good measure.
Now the Picture Gallery is the scene, as you’ll be hearing, of my latest murder mystery, The Girl in the Gallery, and it’s also one of my favourite places in the world. The extraordinarily atmospheric design of the building (I’m not saying too much more, to avoid spoilers) added to world-class art is a compelling mix. I love it. The exhibition at the moment is of the creations of Tove Jansson.
Jansson is famous for giving us the Moomins, deceptively cute, rounded, bean-bag-like creatures. In the books, which I read avidly as a child, their world is not always so cuddly, there’s a lot of loss, searching and ambiguity and the rules are complex and can be misleading. Seeing Jansson’s portrait of her angular, spiky-looking family, her masculine mother, her brother in military uniform, it struck me that the world she ended up creating might be a long way from the one she’d grown up in, or it might be more similar than she knew.
It’s a very interesting exhibition, even if you don’t know and love Moomins. Jansson illustrated other books, including Alice in Wonderland, and was an accomplished painter, as well as a novelist and graphic artist. I loved her last painting, a self-portrait of a face melting from its early angularity and certainty into the blur and confusion of age. Well worth seeing.