Thursday, June 5, 2008

Tove Jansson's The Summer Book

I finished this book this morning, and I think it's going on my top ten all-time favorites list. It's beautiful, and I don't say that lightly. Jansson, whom we've mentioned here as the author of our favorite kids' books, the Moomintroll series, was a Swedish-speaking Finn who died in 2001. She lived for years on an island in the Gulf of Finland. The Summer Book (which is for adults) is about such an island, and about two people who live on it: a six-year-old girl and her very old grandmother.

The little girl's mother has recently died, and this is mentioned exactly once, in the beginning. The rest of the book happens over 21 short chapters, or vignettes, that each have a subject and stand pretty much alone. In one they get a cat, in another they build a model of Venice out in the marsh, in another they experience a huge storm. There is a lot of walking about, lying on moss, poking things with walking sticks. Somehow it is all lovely, unsentimental, funny, and heartbreaking.

Ugh, I hate describing books -- I can never get them to sound as good as they are (or as bad, for that matter). Kathryn Davis wrote the introduction for the edition I read, the new New York Review of Books one, and since she quotes some of the best lines, I suggest you save it for last, as I did.

Books like this one remind me how little needs to happen in a novel. Sometimes all you need is a good, clear eye to hold everything together.

5 comments:

bloglily.com said...

Tove Jansson was a woman! We read those moomintroll books to our children and the whole time I was thinking the author was a man. Good thing I read your blog is all I can say.

This book sounds lovely. I don't like reading long long summaries of books, so yours is more than fine! Also, your observation that not much has to happen in a novel (under the right conditions) applies equally to short stories. Sometimes just a little is more than enough.

Kevin said...

Looks like an interesting book. I'll have to check it out. Lately I've been looking for good island books, perhaps along the lines of "The Tempest." Any other recommendations for island books? (Please, nothing written by Jimmy Buffet.)

Writer Reading said...

This is a nice description and it helps me to understand why my sons refused to read any of the several books I bought them in the series. They were Lord of the Rings/Narnia/A Wrinkle in Time kids. If there was no plot and adventure, it was boring. I might want to read them though. Sounds like the sort of stuff I used to imagine as a child.

rmellis said...

I should say, though, that The Summer Book is for adults -- maybe I'll clarify that in my post.

My older son, the big reader, doesn't like most medieval fantasy or science fiction -- I don't know why. I loved a Wrinkle in Time and the Lloyd Alexander books at his age, but he's into realism, mostly. I'm not sure if he'd read the Moomintroll books on his own...

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