Review: The Summer Book by Tove Jansson

HARDCOVER; 143 P.
TRANS. KRISTIINA KIVIVUORI
WSOY, 2006/1972
SOURCE: FROM THE LIBRARY

From Goodreads:

The Summer Book distills the essence of the summer—its sunlight and storms—into twenty-two crystalline vignettes. This brief novel tells the story of Sophia, a six-year-old girl awakening to existence, and Sophia’s grandmother, nearing the end of hers, as they spend the summer on a tiny unspoiled island in the Gulf of Finland. The grandmother is unsentimental and wise, if a little cranky; Sophia is impetuous and volatile, but she tends to her grandmother with the care of a new parent. Together they amble over coastline and forest in easy companionship, build boats from bark, create a miniature Venice, write a fanciful study of local bugs. They discuss things that matter to young and old alike: life, death, the nature of God and of love. “On an island,” thinks the grandmother, “everything is complete.” In The Summer Book, Jansson creates her own complete world, full of the varied joys and sorrows of life.

One of my challenges for 2014 was to read at least four adult books written by Tove Jansson. Couple weeks ago I visited my local library to return some books, came across this one and I decided to check it out immediately. It’s actually kind of funny that I can’t go to a library without checking out a book. It’s just not possible.

As described in the abstract from Goodreads, The Summer Book is a short story collection that features three people and an island. The main characters in the stories are a six-year-old Sophia and her grandmother. The third character, Sophia’s father, is mostly pictured in the midst of work and thus rarely takes part in the discussions and adventures. The short story collection begins with spring when the family arrives to the island, follows the characters through the summer, and ends with the arrival of autumn.

The language in The Summer Book is simple and the stories don’t have big plot twists or suspense building. However, it is the simplicity and tranquility that create the impact of the stories. Especially the discussions between the young granddaughter and the old woman present interesting contrasts between the characters’ views. The themes in the book are love, longing. loneliness, death, religion, work, and many others. My favourite story must have been The study on local bugs where Sophia writes a book on worms and other bugs and how to treat them. I enjoyed this book very much and read it in the course of two or three days. In the end, the summer was like a human life, from birth to death, and closing the covers in the end felt like saying goodbye to an old friend.

In fact, the island described in The Summer Book is said to be very similar to Klovharu, an island where Tove Jansson spent her summer months. In the biography Life, Art, Words The Summer Book is described as an ode to this island and its habitats, the Jansson family. The book truly reveals the skill of a writer who has a determinate mind and an eye for delicate details.

4/5 

tove100

Review: The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials #3)

PAPERBACK; 548 P.
SCHOLASTIC, 2001/2000
SOURCE: FROM THE LIBRARY

Will is the bearer of the knife. Now, accompanied by angels, his task is to deliver that powerful, dangerous weapon to Lord Asriel – by the command of his dying father.

But how can he go looking for Lord Asriel when Lyra is gone? Only with her help can he fathom the myriad plots and and intrigues that beset him.

The two great powers of the many worlds are lining up for war, and Will must find Lyra, for together they are on their way to battle, an inevitable journey that will even take them to the world of the dead.

To read my thoughts on the previous books in His Dark Materials series, see The Northern Lights (#1)  and The Subtle Knife (#2). Fair warning: As this is the third and final book in the series, this review might spoil something from the previous books.

I read the second book in the series, The Subtle Knife, in early December and was blown off my feet. The ending was a big and emotional cliffhanger, and I craved for more. However, the third book wasn’t in the library at the time so it took me  two months to get my hands on this book. I had forgotten some of the details by then, but luckily they all came back to me while reading the first chapters.

The story centers around Lyra’s destiny and the final resolution of the worlds. As revealed in the first book, The Northern Lights, Lyra is believed to be the second Eve, and her fall would be the end of life as we know it. The Church wants to prevent the fall and the opposing side, Lord Asriel, wants an end to the rule of Church. The book, and the whole series, does not explicitly take sides on this debate (until perhaps the very end). This forces the reader to form his/her own opinion. What I loved about the second book was the use of multiple narrators which gives more dimension to the story. This is also prominent in the third book, but because of the multiple storylines that are tied together in the end, it does get a bit confusing from time to time. The Amber Spyglass also introduces new characters such as the mulefa, angels and The Authority.

On the whole, I didn’t find The Amber Spyglass as interesting or intriguing as The Subtle Knife. Of the whole series, the second book was by far my favourite. The overall story is, however, very interesting and I applaud Pullman for his writing and the concept. The intertextuality in all of the books is amazing and after this I feel encouraged to pick up Milton’s Paradise Lost. The series challenges the reader and the books are not one of those light, easy-to-read novels. And maybe that’s exactly what I love about them. I definitely recommend this series for all of its intertextuality and debate on religion and power.

4/5

Maybe sometimes we don’t do the right thing because the wrong thing looks more dangerous, and we don’t want to look scared, so we go and do the wrong thing just because it’s dangerous. We’re more concerned with not looking scared than with judging right.

My review of The Northern Lights (#1) AND The Subtle Knife (#2).

My Top 5 Literary Couples

Happy Valentine’s Day!

I saw someone here in the blogoshpere list their favourite literary couples for Valentine’s, and I thought that it was a great idea. I tend to love classic romances more than contemporary ones.  As Valentine’s is all about love and romance, here are my top 5 literary couples:

♥5. Valentine Wannop & Christopher Tietjens from Parade’s End

A small confession here: I’ve not actually read Parade’s End. I saw the BBC adaptation (with Benedict Cumberbatch♥) in 2012 and I loved it. Absolutely loved it. However, I  haven’t been able to get myself a copy of this book. TV adaptations are prone to change somethings and glorify others and I might feel differently about this couple after I’ve read the book, but at the moment I think they are wonderful.

+♥5. Sophie & Howl from Howl’s Moving Castle

On the shared fifth position, Howl’s Moving Castle is also a book that I first saw and later read. I love the Hayao Miyazaki movie version of this story but I also loved the original story written by Diana Wynne Jones. I think it’s a great middle grade (?) book and the Sophie and Howl are just adorable. The small signs and gestures of love in this book make my heart warm.

♥4. Hazel Lancaster & Augustus Waters from The Fault in Our Stars

When I started to make this post, this was one of the first couples that came to mind – partly because I read and reviewed it recently, but also because the movie trailer was released a few weeks ago and it just hit home. The Fault in Our Stars is a contemporary story of two cancer survivors who fall in love. It makes you laugh and it makes you cry; it’s a rollercoaster of emotions.

♥3. Elisabeth Bennet & Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice

You guessed this one would be here, didn’t you? Perhaps the most loved couple in fiction, Lizzie and Darcy just meant to be. The numerous movie versions and adaptations tell a success story of the author but also of the fact that first impressions might prove to be false. The prince charming might not be as charming on the first encounter, but there’s still a happily ever after.

♥2. Margaret Hale & John Thornton from North and South

A slightly similar story line to Pride and Prejudice, North and South also deals with prejudices. Margaret Hale is an independent woman, yet bound by the conventions that she has grown up with. John Thornton on the other hand is a wealthy mill owner, seeing these old conventions as a hindrance for development. In the end, both come to realise that the other isn’t necessarily wrong. What makes this couple climb higher than previous is the social commentary that is intertwined to their love story.

♥1. Anne Elliot & Frederick Wentworth from Persuasion

Persuasion, Jane Austen’s last complete novel, has for long been my favourite of her works. The story of forgiveness and everlasting love, it tells of Anne Elliot (played by Sally Hawkins in the 2007 adaptation) who broke of her engagement with Frederick Wentworth due to persuasion from an old friend. Now, 8 years later, Wentworth returns to England and while his position has risen, the Elliot family is almost bankrupt. The two meet again through mutual friends and … the rest you have to read yourself! This book warms my hear every time and I can’t even count how many time’s I’ve read it.

Review: Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

PAPERBACK; 434 P.
RANDOM HOUSE, 2005/1997
SOURCE: FROM THE LIBRARY

From Goodreads:

In this literary tour de force, novelist Arthur Golden enters a remote and shimmeringly exotic world. For the protagonist of this peerlessly observant first novel is Sayuri, one of Japan’s most celebrated geisha, a woman who is both performer and courtesan, slave and goddess.

We follow Sayuri from her childhood in an impoverished fishing village, where in 1929, she is sold to a representative of a geisha house, who is drawn by the child’s unusual blue-grey eyes. From there she is taken to Gion, the pleasure district of Kyoto. She is nine years old. In the years that follow, as she works to pay back the price of her purchase, Sayuri will be schooled in music and dance, learn to apply the geisha’s elaborate makeup, wear elaborate kimono, and care for a coiffure so fragile that it requires a special pillow. She will also acquire a magnanimous tutor and a venomous rival. Surviving the intrigues of her trade and the upheavals of war, the resourceful Sayuri is a romantic heroine on the order of Jane Eyre and Scarlett O’Hara. And Memoirs of a Geisha is a triumphant work – suspenseful, and utterly persuasive.

I saw the movie Memoirs of a Geisha back when it first came out in 2005 and loved it. It was exotic and filled with mystique. Now, almost a decade later, I still remembered that feeling when reading the first pages of this book. But first, the plot: The blurb from Goodreads does a good job in summarizing the story. (Not that I’d compare the protagonist to Jane Eyre or Scarlett O’Hara, although their stories do have similarities.) The events take mostly place in Gion, a geisha area in Kyoto. We follow a small girl, Chiyo, on her road from a maid to a geisha apprentice and eventually, an established geisha. The exotic elements of the culture and tradition are explained along the way as the protagonist faces different stages and challenges.

What I found interesting was the Translator’s note in the beginning of the book, written by a fictional professor, Jakob Haarhuis, who was writing Sayuri’s story. This confused me for a moment before I realized that it was just the prelude to the story, although cleverly put. The story is written beautifully and colourfully. However, the explanations of different geisha traditions did, at times, slow the progression of the story. Whether or not the story romanticized the geisha tradition, I cannot say – at times it did feel like it, and at times it felt like the author was feasting on the not-so-pretty features of the tradition. I guess this divide was to present the battle within the profession – between the over-sexual image and the artistic side.

I didn’t absolutely love the book, but I found the exotic descriptions refreshing and the story very enjoyable. I’d recommend this to those who are interested in finding out more about Japan before and during WWII as well as those who are interested in geisha.

4/5

He was like a song I’d heard once in fragments but had been singing in my mind ever since.

January Reads and February Plans

Hello lovelies!

The first month of the year has past and I’m pretty proud of the pace that I’m keeping. I read 6 books in January, and I’ve started two books. I also started the new year by donating seven books to charity: mostly because I needed more space on my shelves but also because I know I won’t read those again. Hopefully someone else will enjoy them more! January has also been busy here in my blog. I participated in the Bout of Books 9.0 read-a-thon from Jan 6th to 12th and finished two books during that week. My progress can be read from these posts: 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. Another event that I took part in was the Jazz Age January for which I read Evelyn Waugh. I still haven’t watched the BBC adaptation, though.

In January I read:

One of my New Years Resolutions was to blog at least three reviews a month, but it seems that the more I read, the more I want to share my opinions and thoughts on books. This month the only book that I didn’t blog about was Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. Not that I didn’t like it – I’d say it was 3.5/5 – but I just couldn’t articulate what went through my mind whilst reading that play. Let me just say that it challenges you to think about women and their role in a relationship.

In February I hope to read:

  • Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (currently reading)
  • Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (currently reading)
  • The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman
  • Missä kuljimme kerran by Kjell Westö
  • On Beauty by Zadie Smith

At the moment my main plan is to finish the books that I checked out from the library before they are due back (that’s Feb 17th). After that I’ll just go based on my mood for reading. For the last week I’ve been struggling with school work, and making myself precise lists on what to read just feels like piling on more stress. In the end, reading is supposed to be a fun activity. However, I’m feeling intrigued by On Beauty which I hauled back in December. Hopefully I’ll get around to reading it this month.