A couple of years ago my lovely lovely Welsh penpal sent me a copy of The Summer Book by Tove Jansson in a package of things. What this means for this moment is a) I’m a terrible correspondent via snail mail and should be imprisoned for crimes against Pen Pal Do-Goodery and b) I have finally read it.
Tove Jansson was an author I was vaguely aware of from a reasonably young age – my mother acquired one of the Finn Family Moomintroll books and it sat on my bookshelf forever. I felt it was beneath my eight-year-old dignity to read a book with illustrations of little white hippo-y creatures not only on the cover but throughout the pages. Shock horror.
So it went unread. And regrettably continues to remain in such a stasis because I have no idea where it has gone. BUT, said penpal was a longtime fan of Jansson’s books, and so I was gifted with a copy of one of her adult novels – The Summer Book, as I’ve already said. It took me a while to get into, as it’s quite a floaty narrative style that I have to be in a certain mindset to read for a long period of time, but I decided a couple of weeks ago that I had to Just Do It, as Nike would bid me do. It is summer, after all, and I’m trying to get through all my unread books, so mid-January was ideal The Summer Book reading time. And conveniently, for this matter anyway, I’ve been spending much time on public transport of late, which proved most fruitful in this reading venture.
As much as the book is a novel – or novella, perhaps, when length is properly considered – I found it read more like a series of individual short stories, and I’m sure I’m not the first person to have made this observation. The two key characters of Sophia and her grandmother remain the pivotal part of every chapter, as does the island setting, but each any one chapter’s story could happily exist in its own right, without the chapters on either side to hold it up – there’s really no overarching plot. So it felt more like reading a short story collection which happened to have the same familiar characters recycled than a ‘novel’ in the traditional sense of the word.
As for the actual writing and whatnot, Tove Jansson has a magical way with words – and I’d imagine this comes through to an even greater extent in the original Swedish, but super kudos to whoever the translator was (I can’t be bothered checking right now) because whatever that spark is like in the mother tongue, it still shines through in English. Sophia and her grandmother are both fascinating characters – the grandmother arguably more so, with Sophia being somewhat a quintessential creative-spirited question-asking young girl. The grandmother is SASSY.
Anyway. I recommend it. Go read it, and breathe in the landscape of a Scandinavian island world in summertime.
To keep up the summer theme, here I do suggest a few excellent tracks with ‘Summer’ in the title, to keep you in an appropriately sunshiney mood if you’re a fellow Southern Hemisphere dweller, or to lift your wintery spirits if you’re stuck in northern climes. Go youtube ’em and maybe even download them on iTunes.
Summertime – Beck (or alternatively the Sex Bob-Omb version, obviously)
Summer Love – The Brunettes
The Sweet Sounds of Summer – The Shangri-Las
Cruel Summer – Karen Elson
Summer House – Gold Motel
Summer Girl – Family of the Year
Summerboy – Lady Gaga
Summer in the City – Regina Spektor
Big Day Out related update to follow, y’all. Summer festivals fit in with summery updates, obviously.