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.