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The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
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The Summer Book (original 1972; edition 2011)

by Tove Jansson

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,372595,578 (4.2)268
Member:jgsn
Title:The Summer Book
Authors:Tove Jansson
Info:Sort Of (2011), Kindle Edition, 160 pages
Collections:Your library, Fiction, Kindle
Rating:***
Tags:Roman, FI

Work details

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson (1972)

  1. 31
    Moominpappa at Sea by Tove Jansson (Jannes)
    Jannes: Janssons kärlek till den finska skärgården är mycket tydlig i båda dessa böcker som trots sina ytliga olikheter har mycket gemensamt.
  2. 10
    Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury (Jannes)
    Jannes: Interconnected stories abour childhood and endless summers. Bradbury is more fantastical, while Jansson leans more to the realistic and understated, but both books runs over with wonderful and lyrical prose, and both captures a sense of childhood and summer i a way that is very rare.… (more)
  3. 00
    Suddenly in the Depths of the Forest by Amos Oz (cometahalley)
  4. 00
    A Bird in the House by Margaret Laurence (Cecilturtle)
    Cecilturtle: A similarly constructed series of connected short stories told through the eyes of a young girl.
  5. 00
    Il te e l'amore per il mare by Fazil Iskander (cometahalley)
  6. 00
    Melodia della terra. Giamilja by Cingiz Ajtmatov (cometahalley)
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    The Year of the Hare by Arto Paasilinna (jonathankws)
  8. 00
    Der erste Lehrer by Tschingis Aitmatow (cometahalley)
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» See also 268 mentions

English (51)  Italian (2)  Norwegian (1)  Dutch (1)  Swedish (1)  Finnish (1)  All languages (57)
Showing 1-5 of 51 (next | show all)
This was a lovely book that took me forever to read for two primary reasons: 1) It took me a little bit to let go of my Moomin expectations and appreciate the realism in this book. 2) This was a used copy that had been heavily underlined.

Now, when this book arrived underlined from paperbackswap, I could have returned it -- it would have been fully justified as underlining in paperbackswap is fully forbidden. But then I would have had to wait for another copy to turn up in the system, which I didn't want to do. I should have returned it. Am currently contemplating buying a new copy, even though I've finished it and am unlikely to reread. But seriously, why are the people who underline and write in books so overwhelmingly insipid? Of course, not all of them, I've seen some of the books my sister has written in (because she was going to review them or otherwise write about them in an article or book), and it was almost enough to make me want to take up the practice for some books. But the notes and underlines in this are so shallow that they're irritating. I mean, they're not as insipid as the notes in the copy of Sons and Lovers I am also currently reading, that sometimes make me want to throw the book across the room. But they were still pretty distracting.

All that aside, I loved this book for most of the reasons I love the Moomin books. This is an author who gets childhood, in a way that is almost enough for a person so advanced in age as me to remember. Also, I love the relationships the characters have. These are not characters who try to manipulate each other into learning life lessons. These are characters who meet each other where they are, and give each other space to process, lick their wounds, change their minds with as much grace as they can muster.

Recommended to Moomin fans and those who live in relationship with children. ( )
  greeniezona | Sep 20, 2014 |
As luck would have it, there was a Tove Jansson exhibition on at the Helsinki Ateneum while I was in town – August marks the centenary of her birth. (It's still strange to me to realise that a hundred years ago is only the twentieth century now. To me, ‘last century’ still suggests Oscar Wilde, Thomas Hardy.) Amidst all the seascapes, moody self-portraits and Moomin sketches, I was fascinated by a video exhibit that showed a loop of grainy home-movie footage: Tove and her partner Tuulikki Pietilä on their island in the Pellinkis, laughing in the sun, wearing baggy knitted jumpers, and looking – as people always do in grainy home-movie footage – especially dead.

In some ways death is the central theme of this book, but to say so gives entirely the wrong impression – it is light, charming, funny, enriching, very alive, not remotely morbid or depressing. The island where it's set is not quite the one from the home movies, but it's very nearby. Much of the flora and fauna – bird-cherry trees, long-tailed ducks – are also common in the Kalevala, and consequently these species now seem to me, rightly or wrongly, to be archetypally Finnish. Anyway, this small rural island provides a closed (literally insular) world within which our two characters – little Sophia and Grandmother, only ever so called – can talk, play, learn. This could so easily be twee or trite (ha ha, kids say the funniest things and old folks have lots of homespun wisdom to impart) but it's not, it's brilliant. I believed every word. The chapters are independent anecdotes which blend into each other in the way that summer days do when you're very young.

I find this sort of writing – which has no real plot but is all about exploring characters – very hard to do and I am always lost in admiration when I see it done well. Sophia and Grandmother strike me as absolutely real, but even the cameos are brilliantly described – Jansson has a real flair for these thumbnail character sketches, unusual and specific:

Eriksson was small and strong and the colour of the landscape, except that his eyes were blue. When people talked about him or thought about him, it seemed natural to lift their heads and gaze out over the sea […. A]s long as he stayed, he had everyone's undivided attention. No one did anything, no one looked at anything but Eriksson. They would hang on his every word, and when he was gone and nothing had actually been said, their thoughts would dwell gravely on what he had left unspoken.

Sophia's endearing curiosity and strong-mindedness, her grandmother's no-nonsense brand of wisdom, are things that readers will have to discover for themselves, resistant as they are to being captured in quotations. One of my favourite chapters was the one where Grandmother was visited by an old friend, and we see her for the first time away from Sophia and talking to another grown-up: we realise that talking to adults requires just as much care and dissembling as talking to children.

Suddenly he burst out, ‘And now Backmansson is gone.’

‘Where did he go?’

‘He is no longer among us,’ Verner explained angrily.

‘Oh, you mean he's dead,’ said Grandmother. 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.


Jansson manages to have her cake and eat it too. She allows us to enjoy Grandmother, in all her magisterial forthrightness; but she herself as a writer is anything but blunt. She is subtle, and the book's themes accumulate gradually while you're concentrating on something else.

It has to be said too that the (American-) English translation from Thomas Teal is outstanding, almost flawless. Sort Of Books, who reprinted this in Britain, went on to commission translations of all Jansson's other fiction for adults, including more from Teal once they'd tracked him down (he produced The Summer Book in the 1970s, and temporarily retired from translating soon after to concentrate on speechwriting). Sort Of also paid him accumulated royalties even though he didn't own any of the copyright – he tells the story here, and it's likely to endear you to this very small publishing house, which only releases two or three books a year.

This and the NYRB edition also include an introduction from Esther Freud (with whose Hideous Kinky I now see many connections), in which she meets the real-life Sophia, who is now of course a grown woman. The very idea of this is heartbreaking to me – but then that's one of the lessons this book teaches you so painlessly, like the deliciously sugared pill it is, allowing you to smile honestly even as you watch Super-8 footage of someone turning to the camera on a beach sixty years ago, desaturated, a little jerky, laughing over and over again as the tape loops round. ( )
  Widsith | Sep 9, 2014 |
I absolutely loved this series of vignettes about life on a remote island. With a vegetation and solitude reminiscent of Canadian cottages, it conjured all sorts of my own summers around the lakes of Ontario. The friendship between Grandmother and granddaughter is delightful, each looking after the other, bickering, playing and creating their own little universe so much so that the absence of a mother and shadow of a father is hardly noticeable.
This is definitely a book that I will reread with my family. ( )
1 vote Cecilturtle | Sep 6, 2014 |
I really didn't want this book to end, and that is probably the best thing I could say in a review, right? Might as well end this review here!

Spoilers, maybe. It might just be best to read this book blind and let the events develop as gracefully as they do in the book. But for those who want some more information, I'll tell the gist here: This book is a series of vignettes starring a grandmother and her granddaughter who are living on their isolated summer island. The novel is a quiet one. I barely even noticed that I cared a lot for these characters until it was almost over. The granddaughter has lost her mother, and in her absence the granddaughter's relationship with her grandmother is growing and strengthening. However, the grandmother is sick, and is getting worse. It's very clear this support system won't last; like summer, it is fading.

It's a great book. ( )
1 vote sighedtosleep | Sep 1, 2014 |
4.5/5

Say this: say I hate everything that dies slow! Say I hate everything that won't let you help!

There are many books I've read that, according to others, I should not have resonated with, the reason usually being that I am not old and/or have not experienced enough. However, years of intensive delving into fiction have honed my empathy to the point that a conjured "What if..." proves as potent as an actual happening, a heightened sense that, like any other, has equally powerful benefits and backfires. I have not yet dealt with the death of the closest to my heart, but I can imagine.

"It'll be awful," said Sophia gravely. "But it's Moppy I love."

As much as society tries to commodify death, there will always be a breakdown. Even here, the European stability of food, family, religion, are all stretched to their utmost in isolation, environment, and the outliers of age, as summer days roll by in all their fevered torments of water and the kill. It's not as "red in tooth and claw" as I make it sound, and yet, there's nothing cute about the adventures of the grandmother and the granddaughter, nothing to sentimentalize or to pass off as "childish things". Children have their hearts ripped out, too; will you be the one to tell them to grow up?

"Sophia would prefer a lemonade," Grandmother said, and thought: We've got to teach her some manners. We've made a mistake. She has to spend more time with people she doesn't like, before it's too late.

Childhood is the land of developing object permanence, the growing belief in the existence of what one sees even when one cannot see it until someone comes along and tears this trust to shreds. It is a land of connections that forgo all unspoken rules of civil morality, for what is socially accepted without spoken question is more often than not the trappings of classist and ageist weeding. In light of that, it is better to push forward without question, to build one's rules on the backs of one's own clambered heights and swum currents, broken bones and blooming flowers, anything for the guarantee that life will go on. It is better to say what you feel but even more so to say whatever needs to be said in order to offer the one pushing the limits a way home; it is their grief, not yours, and a child deserves as much unquestioned respect and support as a man.

She sighed contentedly, and, absorbed in thought, she filled a coffee cup with precious drinking water and poured it over a daisy.

Silly, dirty, frightening, cruel, powerful, beautiful, delicate, funny, precious life; the grandmother, the father, the granddaughter, the flora, the fauna; the mourning of humans, the plight of a cut in twain angleworm, and all the islands of our days. ( )
  Korrick | Aug 29, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 51 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jansson, Toveprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Teal, ThomasTranslatormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Freud, EstherForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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It was an early, very warm morning in July, and it had rained during the night.
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Information from the Italian Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to the English one.
Che cosa strana è l'amore, disse Sofia. Più si ama l'altro e meno l'altro ti ama.
È assolutamente vero, osservò la nonna. E allora che cosa si può fare?
Si continua ad amare, disse Sofia minacciosamente. Si ama sempre peggio".
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0954221710, Paperback)

An elderly artist and her six-year-old grand-daughter are away on a summer together on a tiny island in the gulf of Finland. As the two learn to adjust to each other's fears, whims and yearnings, a fierce yet understated love emerges - one that encompasses not only the summer inhabitants but the very island itself. Written in a clear, unsentimental style, full of brusque humour, and wisdom, "The Summer Book" is a profoundly life-affirming story. Tove Jansson captured much of her own life and spirit in the book, which was her favourite of her adult novels. This new edition, with a Foreword by Esther Freud, sees the return of a European literary gem - fresh, authentic and deeply humane.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:56:17 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"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." -- Publisher's description.

(summary from another edition)

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