Monday, July 18, 2011

Summer Book

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.

The Summer Book (New York Review Books Classics)
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.


  1. I read this last week (after convincing my library to purchase it and then waiting impatiently for it to be processed) and just adored it. Now I'll have to tell my library to buy her other adult books for me, and I'm putting some of her children's books on hold for my niece. :D

  2. This one has been waiting for me for a while so glad to hear how much you enjoyed it. Maybe on the beach the last week of this month?

  3. Eva: I'm so glad to hear you liked it. I hope you and your niece fall in love with the Moomintrolls!

    Frances: I tried to read this book while kids were running free everywhere, playing. It seemed to make so much sense with a little book like this, with such short chapters on top of it. But I was struck by how much I wanted a quiet, still place for this book. So I'd say it would depend on the beach. (A cabin, alone, by a deserted beach? Absolutely.)

  4. With every post I read about this book, it creeps closer to the top of my mental TBR. I have a very particular mood in which I crave this kind of quiet lyricism; will definitely keep this in mind for next time it hits. :-)

  5. I'll have to look for The Summer Book. It sounds like something my daughter and I would enjoy.


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