The Summer Book by Tove Jansson

In my last post, I mentioned that my summer has been a fairly busy one this year. Not all of it a bad kind of busy, thank goodness – there was time for a few small and not so small gems. Such as sunny skies and scorching temperatures in Seville…

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a brush with history in gorgeous Granada…

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and in not quite so glamorous County Wexford…

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A little local flavour…

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And a dash of modern art, at home and away.

Tower of Mandarins, Orla De Bri
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Detail from Alicia, Cristina Lucas

Another little gem came in the form of The Summer Book by Tove Jansson, which I’ll admit to choosing almost entirely because of its cover.

Described by Ali Smith in The Guardian as ‘a masterpiece of microcosm, a perfection of the small, quiet read‘, and widely regarded as a modern Scandinavian classic, The Summer Book deserves to be read every summer, everywhere, by everyone. Jansson is best known as the creator of the charming Moomins, but The Summer Book is one of a handful of texts she wrote for adult readers. Borrowing in some detail from the lives of her own family, Jansson’s short novel is made up of episodic stories from the island life shared every summer by a young girl, Sophie, and her elderly grandmother. As the two potter about every inch of their small island, nothing much happens but somehow everything is an adventure.

It was just the same long summer, always, and everything lived and grew at its own pace.

Just as the sea encircles the island, there is a sense that the wider world is moving around the grandmother and granddaughter. There are references to life outside their summer retreat: a hint that the young girl’s mother has recently died, encroaching urbanity in the locked house of a new neighbour. But while the world of the pair seems small, it’s fully inhabited by them both and there’s no sense that they are missing out on anything. In fact, their youth and old-age respectively mean that theirs is an existence pared down to the essentials with no time for anything other than either immediate physical concerns or philosophical considerations on life shaped with all the grace of a manifesto. The novel is to be admired for how guilelessly it combines the two. It’s a book full of gentle wisdom and with a lovely, loving relationship at its core. Pick up a copy if you can – I can’t imagine that anyone could regret doing so. And don’t let the changing seasons put you off til next year. The Summer Book also has some words for these late August weeks:

Every year, the bright Scandinavian summer nights fade away without anyone’s noticing. One evening in August you have an errand outdoors, and all of a sudden it’s pitch-black. A great warm, dark silence surrounds the house. It is still summer, but the summer is no longer alive. It has come to a standstill; nothing withers, and autumn is not yet ready to begin.

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6 thoughts on “The Summer Book by Tove Jansson

  1. Your review makes me want to read this! Loved your pics of Seville and Granada – I haven’t been to the former but would relish the chance to go, and I fell in love with the latter early one November morning about 16 years ago. I thought the mandarins were pumpkins until I read your caption – like the way the artist plays with scale in that piece.

    1. Glad you want to read The Summer Book – that’s my job done then! I’d wholly recommend Seville. I see something new every time I visit, though the summer temperatures are a mixed blessing (41/42 this visit) – which must be something shared in your little corner of the world, no? It’s hard not to fall in love with Granada, I’d imagine. I’ve travelled a bit and the Alhambra is the one place that got put straight back on the to-see list about five seconds after it had been ticked off as seen. So beautiful there and echoing with so many voices through history. The De Bri piece meanwhile was part of a Gormley’s Fine Art exhibition in Russborough House – very impressive, but no price listed!

    1. You’re welcome! We’ve had an unseasonably cold August here so maybe I’m feeling the change of seasons more this year. I think I need to find a nice sunny read as an alternative to putting on the heating!

      1. I highly recommend All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. It would be wrong to call it a sunny read, set as it is during WWII but what a story! I intend to review of it on my blog sometime soon (and make a hash of it as I am no master reviewer) 😀

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