Archive for the ‘Tove Jansson’ Category

The NYRB Classic edition of The Summer Book by Tove Jansson is described on the back cover as “the essence of summer” and, after reading this delightful slim volume, I can’t disagree.  In fact, as we stumble headlong into August having seen more hail and rain than sun, this seems like the only summer I might experience this year.  But I can’t complain: wouldn’t you rather spend your summers on a Finnish island, exploring and discovering the world around you?

From the opening lines, Jansson paints a vivid picture of life on the island that continues throughout and one can almost smell and feel the scene she creates.  It’s a magical yet still realistic place, the kind you know exists somewhere and would love to find yourself:

It was an early, very warm morning in July, and it had rained during the night.  The bare granite steamed, the moss and crevices were drenched with moisture, and all the colors everywhere had deepened.  Below the veranda, the vegetation in the morning shade was like a rain forest of lush, evil leaves and flowers…(p. 5)

The short vignettes dealing with the adventures, games, and minor dramas of six-year-old Sophia and her elderly grandmother are simple but beautifully expressed, capturing the spirit and selfishness of youth as well as the exhaustion and bluntness that comes with age.  Both characters can be delightful, but they are both flawed and far more likeable than their more perfect counterparts that appear in similar (and infinitely lesser) novels.  Flawed characters are so much more loveable, a lesson that Sophia learns in a chapter entitled “The Cat.”

I’ve always been rather intimidated by Scandinavian writers, having the impression that their writing style was stark and rather brutal.  Perhaps this may be true of some authors but certainly not Jansson.  Her writing and stories are straightforward but still gentle and endearing.  There is subtle humour throughout, but generally I’d call the book sweet rather than funny (though “The Crooks” is very amusing).  Exactly the perfect reading for hot summer days, when all you want to do is loll about in the shade with a wonderful, easy book that sweeps you up into a world not your own.

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