Island Life With The Summer Book

Thursday, 26 January 2017

If you have been keeping upto date with my blog you'll know that this year one of my goals is to read more, the first book I've jumped into is The Summer Book by Tove Jansson. Jansson is better known for Moomin, the series about a family living a quiet life in nature spending time exploring and idly going about their lives. Moomin and Jansson herself is a fascinating story and if you get a chance I fully recommend the BBC documentary Moominland Tales: The Life of Tove Jansson. The Summer Book is the first adult fiction novel by Jansson, and based around the interactions she witnessed between her mother and niece.
“She started thinking about all the euphemisms for death, all the anxious taboos that had always fascinated her. It was too bad you could never have an intelligent discussion on the subject. People were either too young or too old, or else they didn't have time.” 
― Tove Jansson, The Summer Book
The Summer Book is not a book that tells a standard story; it's not the story of a protagonist conquering some hardship, or even with a coherent plot. It tells the tale of a place and the feelings this place gives the two main characters. The only two real characters are Sofia - an occasionally rude but curious young girl - and her Grandmother - sometimes snarky but always making fantastical stories - there are also a few other characters but none of these really have any substantial role. Set on a island where the Grandmother, Sofia and her father are spending their summer, each chapter of the book shows a little vignette of life on the island.

As I moved through the book I got the image of a place full of intention and sentimentality for all the characters. While Sofia is just learning about the world, easily bored but wanting to discuss life, nature and the way the world works. The grandmother tries to appease Sofia the best she can however is sometimes annoyed by this persnickety child. There is one chapter in particular that really talks about the frustration of aging, and being treated as less capable by younger family members.  
“Wise as she was, she realized that people can postpone their rebellious phases until they're eighty-five years old, and she decided to keep an eye on herself.” 
― Tove Jansson, The Summer Book
If you're looking for a book that has a story that you can follow through and feel like everything is tied off and done with, then The Summer Book is not for you. I've heard this book compared to a painting and that is a pretty good analogy, in the sense that it shows a tiny slice of a life that will carry on afterwards, but the slice encompasses all the emotion of this place at this time. But if you want a really effecting, smart and funny book about different perspectives on life, at opposing ages then this may be right up your ally. 


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