Review: The Summer Book by Tove Jansson (1972)



  • Books of Our Lives (1972, 1001 Books to Read Before You Die)


This is an absolutely delightful book. I enjoyed every word. It’s a short book written in short, themed chapters that are so quaint and funny I kept wanting to read “just one more”.

There isn’t much of a plot or linear narrative in this book. Instead, it’s about the adventures and incidents of a young girl spending summers on an island in the Gulf of Finland with her father and grandmother. The father is a very remote figure in the book, present really in name only. But the characterization of, and relationship between, the little girl and the grandmother is so much fun.

The little girl is quite a headstrong little thing, and the grandmother is ungrandmotethly at times, crawling through thickets and breaking into houses because she’s curious about the new neighbors. I love the writing style which is sparse and very dryly witty, letting the dialogue stand on its own.

“You’re a very good climber,” said Grandmother sternly. “And brave, too, because I could see you were scared. Shall I tell him [father] about it?”
Sophia shrugged one shoulder and looked at her grandmother. “I guess maybe not,” she said. “But you can tell it on your deathbed so it doesn’t go to waste.”

Another (when Sophia is angry at her grandmother):
One evening, Sophia wrote a letter and stuck it under the door. It said, “I hate you, With warm personal wishes, Sophia.”

It’s a soft, lyrical book with such a strong sense of place on the island with the boats and buoys and nets, rocks and waves, and kerosine lamps. It’s really magically evocative. And there’s also a strong feeling of age and time in the book, the grandmother at the end of her life and the child at the start of it, neither fitting in the busy adult world.

This is the sort of book you want to stash away in your favorites to read again when you’re sick or feeling low or just need some peace and comfort.

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