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.
On the Point of Erupting
By: Einar Már Guðmundsson
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase
Einar Már Guðmundsson has achieved international renown as a novelist, with his books being translated into over 30 languages. But when he first burst onto the Icelandic scene in 1980, it was as a poet.
Guðmundsson’s poetry is bold and moving, sharp, sarcastic and funny. The 50 poems collected in this volume have been interpreted by some of Iceland’s best translators.
I picked this book up whilst I was in Iceland. I was looking for something written by an Icelandic author to pick up just because I was there (I try to do this whenever I’m in another country) and thankfully this was one poetry that was translated into English.
Einar Már Guðmundsson’s poetry in a way reminded me of Leonard Cohen with some of the phrases, the infusion of the popular culture he was in, some of his approaches to the subjects he was writing about. What struck me especially was how that sort of punk 80s popular culture he was writing in is very much present in many of his poems. But the ones I like more were the poems about the countryside and about Iceland’s culture and atmosphere; through those poems I have a greater sense of how an Icelandic person views his or her country, and indeed just the country he lives in.
Overall I’m glad to have read On the Point of Erupting which I should mention is a collection of selected poetry from Einar Már Guðmundsson over the course of his career. Indeed it can be witty and there’s a sense of irony in many of the poems he’s written, but I especially enjoyed the poems about the country he lives in, I just had a greater sense of the country through those poems. Definitely a collection to check out if you’re looking to check out something different.
Visit the author’s official website
Strange Shores (Inspector Erlendur #11)
By: Arnaldur Indriðason, Victoria Cribb (Translator)
Format/Source: Mass market paperback; my purchase
A young woman walks into the frozen fjords of Iceland, never to be seen again. But Matthildur leaves in her wake rumours of lies, betrayal and revenge. Decades later, somewhere in the same wilderness, Detective Erlendur is on the hunt. He is looking for Matthildur but also for a long-lost brother, whose disappearance in a snow-storm when they were children has coloured his entire life. He is looking for answers. Slowly, the past begins to surrender its secrets. But as Erlendur uncovers a story about the limits of human endurance, he realises that many people would prefer their crimes to stay buried.
I posted about this book on Instagram but I bought this book whilst I was waiting at Keflavik Airport in Iceland for my connecting flight. I think I’ve seen his books in passing before but I never read them so I decided to pick one up. Of course, doing things backwards as I do, I started with the last book in the series, lmao. But the premise of this book interested me the most from the others available so there you have it 😛
a.k.a the poetry edition! In retrospect I realised I could’ve strung a few of my poetry book reviews in a mini-review post, but anyway…The following are a whole slew of poetry books I read towards the end of 2016 (and just in time for National Poetry Month 😛 ). Included in this batch are:
If There Is Something to Desire
By: Vera Pavlova
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase
I broke your heart. / Now barefoot I tread / on shards.
Such is the elegant simplicity—a whole poem in ten words, vibrating with image and emotion—of the best-selling Russian poet Vera Pavlova. The one hundred poems in this book, her first full-length volume in English, all have the same salty immediacy, as if spoken by a woman who feels that, as the title poem concludes, “If there was nothing to regret, / there was nothing to desire.”
Pavlova’s economy and directness make her delightfully accessible to us in all of the widely ranging topics she covers here: love, both sexual and the love that reaches beyond sex; motherhood; the memories of childhood that continue to feed us; our lives as passionate souls abroad in the world and the fullness of experience that entails. Expertly translated by her husband, Steven Seymour, Pavlova’s poems are highly disciplined miniatures, exhorting us without hesitation: “Enough painkilling, heal. / Enough cajoling, command.”
It is a great pleasure to discover a new Russian poet—one who storms our hearts with pure talent and a seemingly effortless gift for shaping poems.
I had been eyeing this collection of poems for some time, partly because of the book cover; it’s a great choice of title for the collection as well as poem featured as it is one of my favourites *thumbs up* Anyway, this is her first collection translated into English, which is pretty cool, and I enjoyed this collection from start to finish. Her poems are pretty short in general but the topics her poems cover are quite the range: love, sex, family, memory, motherhood, life. There’s nothing else I can really say about this collection except that I highly recommend it if you’re into poetry and/or are looking to read poems in translation 🙂
By: J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (editor)
Format/Source: Hardback; my purchase
The translation of Beowulf by J.R.R. Tolkien was an early work, very distinctive in its mode, completed in 1926: he returned to it later to make hasty corrections, but seems never to have considered its publication. This edition is twofold, for there exists an illuminating commentary on the text of the poem by the translator himself, in the written form of a series of lectures given at Oxford in the 1930s; and from these lectures a substantial selection has been made, to form also a commentary on the translation in this book.
From his creative attention to detail in these lectures there arises a sense of the immediacy and clarity of his vision. It is as if he entered into the imagined past: standing beside Beowulf and his men shaking out their mail-shirts as they beached their ship on the coast of Denmark, listening to the rising anger of Beowulf at the taunting of Unferth, or looking up in amazement at Grendel’s terrible hand set under the roof of Heorot.
But the commentary in this book includes also much from those lectures in which, while always anchored in the text, he expressed his wider perceptions. He looks closely at the dragon that would slay Beowulf “snuffling in baffled rage and injured greed when he discovers the theft of the cup”; but he rebuts the notion that this is “a mere treasure story”, “just another dragon tale”. He turns to the lines that tell of the burying of the golden things long ago, and observes that it is “the feeling for the treasure itself, this sad history” that raises it to another level. “The whole thing is sombre, tragic, sinister, curiously real. The ‘treasure’ is not just some lucky wealth that will enable the finder to have a good time, or marry the princess. It is laden with history, leading back into the dark heathen ages beyond the memory of song, but not beyond the reach of imagination.”
Sellic spell, a “marvellous tale”, is a story written by Tolkien suggesting what might have been the form and style of an Old English folk-tale of Beowulf, in which there was no association with the “historical legends” of the Northern kingdoms.
I picked up this book and read it when it was first released back in 2014 but I never got around to reviewing it here. That was because I didn’t have much to say about it at the time–didn’t honestly know what to think of it, I had read The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun (review) and knew there would be added content in this book but I didn’t expect Tolkien’s actual piece to be so short. Since then I did get around to reading the stardard edition that’s available (re-read it again earlier this year (review) so now that I have a sense of how the story went down, I decided to revisit Tolkien’s rendition of the tale again.