The Summer Book
by Tove Jansson, Esther Freud (Introduction), Thomas Teal (Translator)
An elderly artist and her six-year-old granddaughter while away a summer together on a tiny island in the gulf of Finland. Gradually, the two learn to adjust to each other’s fears, whims and yearnings for independence, and a fierce yet understated love emerges – one that encompasses not only the summer inhabitants but the island itself, with its mossy rocks, windswept firs and unpredictable seas.
Full of brusque humour and wisdom, The Summer Book is a profoundly life-affirming story. Tove Jansson captured much of her own experience and spirit in the book, which was her favourite of the novels she wrote for adults. This new edition sees the return of a European literary gem – fresh, authentic and deeply humane.
I was thinking about saving this book until the summer, but figured giving it a go in March might help brighten up the gloomy weather we’d been having over the past couple of weeks. It looks like it might have worked as the sun is shining as I write this!
“The Summer Book” is considered a classic in Finland and has been translated into countless languages. This is not your conventional holiday story and there’s no real plot but rather a series of short stories about 6 year old Sophia and her aging Grandmother spending their summers on a small Scandinavian island.
Sophia is a strange child and is often disrespectful and rude towards her grandmother which made her a little less likable in my eyes. The grandmother is realistic, she’s around 85 and as much as she’d like to, she can’t keep up with feisty Sophia. Both women are at stages in their lives when what they say is unfiltered and this leads to some interesting conversations between the two.
“Why are you in such a rush?” Sophia asked, and her grandmother answered that it was a good idea to do things before you forgot that they had to be done.”
This book is short and the chapters are short too which I’m usually a fan of, but in this case I found the whole thing to be a little bland. It’s well written but when one of the most interesting plot points is Sophia’s cat bringing dead mice into the house I don’t feel that I’ve really read anything special.
Overall rating: A wisp of a book, “The Summer Book” is brief with no real plot but it’s well written. For me these snippets of life in the summer on a Scandinavian island were enjoyable but nothing I’ll be raving about – it’s 3 stars from me.