The Summer Book

“It was a particularly good evening to begin a book.”   The Summer Book, Tove Jansson


Reading a book in the hammock
Reading in the hammock


I’m discovering Tove Jansson this summer, thanks to Claire McAlpine and her blog, Word by Word. I don’t know how I went this long without delving into this amazing Finnish, Swedish-speaking writer and world-renowned creator of the Moomintroll comic strip.

Next week I’ll show you her Moomins, but today I’m reading The Summer Book, a novel about a girl spending the summer with her grandmother, who lives on an island at the end of the Finland archipelago.  The island in the book is like the one Tove lived on with her partner for many years, a wild and beautiful place superbly evoked in this story.

I’m lazy on these idyllic summer weekends, so I’m going to borrow the copy that’s written on the back of the book, which captures the novel much better than I could:

The Summer Book cover, Swedish
The Summer Book, by Tove Jansson

“….Jansson distills the essence of the summer – it’s 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.”

This slim paperback, a New York Review Books Classic, was originally published in 1972. I love the cover illustration by Tove Jansson, which was on the original jacket cover. Jansson’s simple, black and white sketches are scattered throughout the book.

Her novel has inspired me to begin planning a summer vacation in Sweden, where my grandparents are from. It would be fun to stay in a fisherman’s cottage like the one Sophia’s grandmother lived in, perhaps near to the farm where my grandmother grew up.

To come: Jansson’s memoir, Sculptor’s Daughter; her collection of stories about the artist’s life – Fair Play; and the Moomins.

Mushrooms next to tree
I don’t know if you’d find these mushrooms on Tove’s Finnish island, but that’s what I thought of when I saw these in our neighborhood.


4 thoughts on “The Summer Book”

  1. I think translated fiction and non-fiction have been lurking in the shadows for a long time, the only reason I can think of as to why Tove Jansson’s work for adults hasn’t been known to us until relatively recently. She is certainly enjoying a surge in popularity now, in this her 100th anniversary year.

    I am soon to start The Sculptor’s Daughter, which I think may contain some similar stories from other collections and I have my eye on the biography by Boel Westin as well to read this year. Oh and the children’s books, I may have to borrow them from the library in French!

    I thought something interesting must be going on over here Valorie, as I had quite a few visitors to my blog overnight, redirected from Books Can Save A Life. Thank you so much for the mention. Wonderful to see you are enjoying her work as much as I do. I really enjoyed The Winter Book as well, it’s more solitary, but many of the stories have stayed with me. 🙂

    1. Thank you, Claire. I’d like to read the Westin bio, too. I especially enjoy the lives of creative individuals. Also, certainly would like to read more translated literature, and you’ve given me several excellent recommendations via your blog.

  2. I’m a recent convert too, thanks to Simon at Stuck-in-a-Book – and I can’t believe I haven’t read her before. She’s wonderful!

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