The Summer Book
by Tove Jansson, introduction by Kathryn Davis, translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal
In The Summer Book Tove Jansson distills the essence of the summer—its sunlight and storms—into twenty-two crystalline vignettes. This brief novel tells the story of Sophia, a six-year-old girl awakening to existence, and Sophia’s grandmother, nearing the end of hers, as they spend the summer on a tiny unspoiled island in the Gulf of Finland. The grandmother is unsentimental and wise, if a little cranky; Sophia is impetuous and volatile, but she tends to her grandmother with the care of a new parent. Together they amble over coastline and forest in easy companionship, build boats from bark, create a miniature Venice, write a fanciful study of local bugs. They discuss things that matter to young and old alike: life, death, the nature of God and of love. “On an island,” thinks the grandmother, “everything is complete.” In The Summer Book, Jansson creates her own complete world, full of the varied joys and sorrows of life.
Tove Jansson, whose Moomintroll comic strip and books brought her international acclaim, lived for much of her life on an island like the one described in The Summer Book, and the work can be enjoyed as her closely observed journal of the sounds, sights, and feel of a summer spent in intimate contact with the natural world.
Download the Reading Group Guide for The Summer Book.Tove Jansson, introduction by Kathryn Davis, translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal
Tove Jansson was a genius. This is a marvelous, beautiful, wise novel, which is also very funny.
— Philip Pullman
[Jansson's] writing is all magical deception, her sentences simple and loaded; the novel reads like looking through clear water and seeing, suddenly, the depth.
— Ali Smith
The Summer Book is pure loveliness. The movements of tides and winds and boats and insects loom larger for our narrator than the currents of history, and the profound quiet of the setting—I'm reminded of Akhil Sharma's description of a prose like "white light"—allows us to hear Jansson's unsparing and ironic tenderness, a tone that remains purely her own, even in translation.
—Garth Risk Hallberg, The Millions
Jansson's clear prose — capable of sentiment without being sentimental — contains multitudes. The Summer Book is bright but dense; it is slim enough to read in a day but holds a whole world between its covers.
Poetic understatement, dry humor and a deep love for nature are obvious throughout her oeuvre....The book is as lovely, as evocative as a film by Hayao Miyazaki.
— Time Out New York
The Summer Book manages to make you feel good as well as wise, without having to make too much effort...[it] says so much that we want to hear in such an accessible form, without ever really saying anything at all.
— The Independent (London)