An elderly artist and her six-year-old grand-daughter while away a summer together on a tiny island in the gulf of Finland. As the two learn to adjust to each other’s fears, whims and yearnings, a fierce yet understated love emerges – one that encompasses not only the summer inhabitants but the very island itself.
Written in a clear, unsentimental style, full of brusque humour, and wisdom, The Summer Book is a profoundly life-affirming story. Tove Jansson captured much of her own life and spirit in the book, which was her favourite of her adult novels.
So, my cousin Eleanor lent me this book about a year ago and urged me to read it as soon as possible because she thought I would love it. My family and friends don’t recommend books to me very often because I have usually read everything before they get their mitts on it and I am recommending it to them or, in the case of my friend, Mary, because she thinks I won’t like it. This mostly tells me that my friend, Mary, does not read my blog or she would know that I will read almost anything and my tastes are wide, diverse and not particularly highbrow. (I will wait and see if she mentions this review to me as a way of testing whether or not I am correct!)
Anyway, bloggers being bloggers, I have had this book on my TBR ever since and had not found a slot in which to, well slot it, until I gave myself a summer off blog tours to do some free reading. I wish I had not waited so long because she was right, I did love it.
This book is the story of a young girl and her grandmother whiling away a summer on a remote island off the coast of Finland. Whilst not specifically written as a biography, the book is based on the author’s own childhood experiences and you can feel the love and affection for these memories she had shining from the page.
The book is an unusual construction, more akin to a series of related short stories or anecdotes than a linear tale, but I think this is part of its charm. It is a series of snapshots of events that stand out in the course of a summer when the rest of the days were probably all much the same, as summer days tend to be. And when I say stand out, they stand out in small and insignificant ways by and large, because mostly nothing huge happens. But this is the way of childhood, the things that are important are things that are insignificant when we get older and busier and more wrapped up in adult concerns. We don’t have the time to focus on the millions of tiny miracles that happen every day. These are the privileges of childhood and, as evidenced by this book, of old age when life again slows down and we can appreciate what is around us once again. Life come full circle, generations in tune.
This is the beauty of this book, the gentle, slow, true understanding and affection between these two generations sharing a quiet, slow summer on a small island. There are misunderstandings and arguments, moments of sadness, moments of fear, moments of joy and lots and lots of love. It really portrays a warm and real and beautiful relationship between two people and it really made me feel happy and hopeful. I will repeat that – happy and hopeful. What more could anyone ask for from a book? An unusual but very special read that deserves a place on anyone’s bookshelf, to be reached for a times when one’s soul needs a salve. Thank you for the recommendation, Eleanor. Oh, and happy birthday. xx
You can get a copy of The Summer Book by Tove Jansson here.
About the Author
TOVE JANSSON (1914-2001) is revered around the world as one of the foremost children’s authors of the twentieth century for her illustrated Moomin chapter books.