I picked up my copy of The Summer Book by Tove Jansson last year. It was one of those days where I just wanted to wander around and peruse the shelves of the bookshop hoping to find some inspiration and something new to read.
I had never actually heard of The Summer Book despite it being somewhat widely known and read. But thankfully the bright blue cover of this book stood out, I read the back of the book:
‘Eccentric, funny, wise, full or joys and small adventures. This is a book for life.’ – Esther Freud.
That sentence pretty much summed up exactly what I love in a book.
The blurb inside the cover read as this:
‘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.’
The Summer Book is widely regarded as a classic throughout Scandinavia. Written in 1972 by the writer and artist Tove Jansson, who is mostly famously known as the creator of the Moomins, this is one of 10 novels she wrote for adults.
The book itself is a series of short chapters, each one capturing a moment or mini story over the course of a summer centering on the grandmother and granddaughter. Occasionally the father is referred to, but really this is a story of how two women at totally opposites stages of life play together over a season.
The characters are staying at a summer house on a small island in the Gulf of Finland. The way that the landscape is described evokes a feeling vastness and interest – smooth rocks, a small beach, a jetty for their boat, woodland, and a garden.
The foreword by Esther Freud, who visits the island on which the book is based, notes that the island really is actually quite small. But it’s the storytelling that makes it feel so large. I guess it’s that feeling of adventure that the characters create each day that lends to that.
When I say adventure though, I don’t mean there’s some great story arc, or plot. There is no suspense. Rather, the adventures are the quiet kind. The everyday. The kind where you find joy and interest in the simple and mundane.
The beauty of the book is in its seeming simplicity. Each chapter short but captivating. It is charming and at the same time almost philosophical. It’s as if the author was able to pick out the musings of both the granddaughter and grandmother as they figure out a new way of being. They learn from one another through love and crankiness, and grow as a result.
It beautifully captures the uniqueness of a grandparent-grandchild relationship set against the beauty of this rugged little island. An island where the characters can create their own world.
I think The Summer Book is a delight. It’s an uplifting little book that you could easily get through in a few hours, although I prefer to read it in small doses and go at the slower pace set by the book.
It has a sense of escape to it. Yet that small sense of marvel that the beauty and adventure in life is there in the little things. There’s a tenderness to the stories.
I like the humanity of the characters. Sophie, the little girl, is sweet, temperamental, feisty and forthright. Grandmother is cranky yet wise.
This book inspires me to create my own little adventures, of using my imagination again, for seeing the world in different ways. Just like Sophie and Grandmother you can make up your own stories, create your own games, imagine small parts of nature to be more grand then they are.
The Summer Book is a gentle, easy-going read. It’s charming, delightful, and uplifting. Go for this when you want some gentle escape.