Review: The Summer Book by Tove Jansson

WSOY, 2006/1972

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.



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