Jansson is most famous for being the creator of The Moomins. I liked the cartoons when I was younger but never really thought much about the books they had come from or the author who had written them. I’m glad this fantastic and talented author has finally been brought to my attention!
Reading The Summer Book filled me with a peaceful calm. The writing is unhurried and there are no huge climatic scenes. It’s a beautiful, thoughtful book with a clear simplicity that matches the isolation and fresh breezes of the setting.
The book is set out in non-linear short stories, or as Iris on Books says ‘short glimpses’, into the lives of Sophia and her grandmother as they spend their summers on a small island. We learn early on that Sophia’s mother has recently died, and although the theme of death is often present, it is not overly sentimental or used as a device to create sympathy.
To me, the moments that are described remind me very much of how I remember things from my childhood. There’s often no order to it, and the memories don’t need to be put into context. Sometimes small events that do not seem important at the time can be remembered with real clarity when you are older.
The two main characters in The Summer Book are based on Jansson’s mother and niece. The fact that the characters are real only makes the book feel even more special. The close relationship between the two is very touching. Grandmother and grandchild have a lot in common. Together they are trying to make their way through the fears and insecurities in their lives. The grandmother is nearing the end of her life and afraid of losing her independence. Sophia is only at the beginning of hers and learning to grow up in a world without her mother.
There is obviously a stubborn streak running through the family as both have a temper and a mind of their own. Their roles are interchangeable, sometimes with Sophia comforting or telling off her grandmother, (who likes to break rules) and other times with the grandmother encouraging and teaching the girl.
One of my favourite parts of the book, and the island, is the Magic Forest – ‘a tangled mass of stubborn resignation’. This enchanting place, moulded by time and the elements into such fascinating shapes is very believable – haven’t all children discovered similar magical hide-outs? In this case though, it is the grandmother who likes to sit in the forest and carve creatures out of wood.
This book is charming and gentle with a captivating setting – a small island that I would love to disappear to one summer. Click on the picture below to buy it.