(A review I wrote in September 2015)
Tove Jansson is mainly known for being the creator of the Moomin series, but as well as writing and illustrating children’s fiction and comics, she also wrote fiction for adults. The two of her novels that I have now read – The Summer Book and The True Deceiver – have both proved to be brilliant self-contained books, with less whimsy and more of the pronounced philosophical edge that Moomin only touches on.
I really didn’t expect to like this book as much as I did, or as much as other Tove Jansson I’ve read. But I did! It was very beautiful and funny and really enveloped me in the little world on the island, which is what good books should do. I think The Summer Book gives the same sort of escapism as the Moomin books (so I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys these); the isolation from the rest of society and the self-sufficiency that is somehow whimsical…but this book has more of a realism to it, of course.
I especially liked the chapter about the cats. Describing the animal’s personalities and Sophia’s frustrations with them was really funny and I related to it lots. I think Jansson is great at characterisation; the bluntness of Grandmother and the fleeting dramatic crises of Sophia are so real and I love how the characters bounce off each other. She is brilliant at writing the complexities of relationships.
The setting and it’s description is beautiful…there is something about islands that I will always be interested in. Jansson keeps up the description of the weather and wind constantly, but it is not boring; it seems important to the story, maybe because the characters’ lives are so entwined with the surrounding area and nature. The chapter with the storm was definitely the climax of the book, so atmospheric…
It is another book I have read recently describing summer, and it coming to an end (having recently finished Goodbye Tsugumi.) The ending seemed poignant and sad though it doesn’t have to be. Packing things up, anxiously trying not to forget anything, being prepared. But for what? She stays outside and watches the sea… I think the ending was beautiful and melancholy but maybe hopeful. It’s that strange kind of poignancy where you can’t tell whether it’s sad or not. I get that feeling when I go to the beach. Like time is running out and I must appreciate everything in that moment..and the enormity of everything in comparison to you and your life. Maybe The Summer Book is about time and endings as much as life.