The Book of Summer
By: Tove Jansson
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase
In The Summer Book Tove Jansson 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.
I had been eyeing this book for ages (I’ve been saying that a lot with some of these books, but it’s true!). Her Moomin comics are popular but I wanted to read her fiction as the premise of her books sounded quite interesting. Well, I finally got my hands on this book and thought it would make a perfect summer read.
Well, it certainly did make for a wonderful summer read! It was fun to follow Sophia and her grandmother living on this island where everyone knew everyone, didn’t like it when someone from outside or from the city came in, and who basically lived in peace and quiet doing their own thing. There are forests to explore, beaches to cavort about, comings and goings of boats to be seen.
What really struck me was the characterisations of Sophia and her grandmother and how they spend their time together, feed off each other, and come to realisations through their interactions. Yeah, the grandmother is cantankerous and grumpy, and Sophia can be a bit of a brat at times, and them hanging out sometimes ends in shouting matches but there’s something true to life about their relationship and interactions. “The Tent” was one story that particularly struck me and stood out for me because in it the grandmother sort of rediscovers something of her childhood through Sophia’s experiences that she had long since buried. There’s a newness from Sophia’s perspective of camping out and the grandmother sort of having forgotten the excitement of it over time because no one was interested in hearing what she had to say about the matter. It’s sad and yet there’s an honesty to it that rings through that story and indeed through all of the stories in this book.
The Summer Book is a delightful if indeed quiet and introspective book. The twelve stories follow twelve different adventures that Sophia and her grandmother parttake in around the island, with their neighbours (and the occasional appearance by Sophia’s father), by nature itself. Certainly a book to check out if you’re looking for something quieter to read this summer. Can’t wait to read her other adult fiction titles!