The Summer Book – Tove Jansson – Review

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“The Summer Book is a fresh, vivid and magical novel about seemingly endless summers of discovery. An elderly artist and her six year old granddaughter while away the summer together, on a tiny island in the Gulf of Finland, their solitude disturbed only by migrating birds, sudden storms and an occasional passing boat. Gradually, the two learn to adjust to each other’s fears, foibles and yearnings for independence, and a fierce yet understated love emerges – one that engulfs not only the summer inhabitants, but the very island itself. Tove Jansson writes with a special toughness, and with a quiet, dry sense of humour, about a small girl and her grandmother, who as kindred spirits share the long days together.”

3 of 5 stars

This review first appeared on the Trip Fiction website.

I received a copy of this book from Trip Fiction in exchange for an honest review.

This is the first book I have read by Tove Jansson, better known as the creator of the Moomins.

The Summer Book is the tale of an elderly woman and her granddaughter, whiling away the summer months on the family’s island in coastal Finland and is based on Jansson’s own summers of youth.

The book has an otherworldly quality to it, insular in a lot of respects, the language used between the two main characters a personal thing. It gives the impression that the island itself is similar, remote, isolated and understood only by those who live there.

Grandmother and Sophia have a strange relationship. Grandmother seems detached sometimes and never seems to treat her like a child but is unconsciously considerate in other ways, for example she rebuilds a miniature Venice she had made for Sophia when the original is washed away in a storm, ensuring that the new model looked like it was the original, with a little storm damage.

The book was also written some years ago, 1972, which adds to the slight feeling of displacement, but you could easily imagine that life on the islands is much the same now as then.

Whilst it gave a valuable insight into coastal life in 1970s Finland, the idiosyncrasies of island life were fascinating for example, I don’t think it expanded my overall idea of what Finland is like. It did, however, make me keen to visit, and sooner rather than later I hope.

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