Since my son was born a dozen years ago, I've loved sharing books with him. Together we've read beautiful picture books, classic children's fiction, exciting adventure books, and most recently some adult classics (like The Great Gatsby, which we reviewed together). One of our favorite reads for years was Tove Jansson's classic Finn Family Moomintroll series, with all its gentle zaniness.
I only recently learned that Jansson also wrote for adults. The marvelous New York Review of Books Classics series has released a few of her novels, including one I've been reading about on a lot of book blogs: The Summer Book. What a quiet, lovely book! It is a book without an intense plot--just a series of lyrical meditations that follow a young girl and her grandmother across their transformative summer on a remote island. What informs the vignettes is a fact just barely mentioned: that the six-year-old girl's mother has just died.
The two people struggle to learn how to live together and love one another. The grandmother is "a little cranky" (as it says on the back cover) as she gives up some of her solitude to care for her granddaughter. Young Sophia is a whirlwind of childhood desires and concerns--and readiness to take care of those around her. These are two amazingly well-drawn characters who see intimately real and alive.
The introduction the the NYRB edition--a text by Kathryn Davis which is almost as lyrical and gentle as Jansson's own--points out that The Summer Book was written when Jannson was sixty years old, one year after her own mother had died. The author inhabits both characters, the grandmother and grieving daughter, allowing the book to have a depth of empathy even as it describes simple, everyday events without a drop of sentimentality.
The plot of this book is all but nonexistent. If you're in the mood for a rollicking adventure, don't expect to find it here. But if you are a reader who is moved more by characters, language, and emotion than by plot, you must go read this book. Highly recommended.