Sunday, 7 June 2009

The Summer Book

I liked The Summer Book by Tove Jansson (translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal) but I didn't love it. I enjoyed its gentle simplicity and its understated beauty. I also enjoyed the fact that each chapter was a vignette and that the book had no actual plot - the events of each section take place during one Summer spent on a Scandinavian island but are stand alone occurrences - which lends itself to a subtle wisdom but overall the book didn't captivate me. Don't get me wrong, I don't require gripping plot to enjoy a book, and I did enjoy this book, but I was left feeling a little ... underwhelmed. Perhaps I will grow to fully appreciate its understatement and discover its literary merit and understand why it is a Scandinavian Classic upon further reflection.

The exchanges between Sophia and her grandmother fall between poignant and humorous; their close -but sometimes guarded- relationship is well conveyed. The evocation of Summer is well done. The meditation upon death is bittersweet. The whimsy is whimsical. I preferred the witty exchanges and found the darker ones heartbreaking sometimes.

My favourite Sophia/Grandmother exchange was when Herdice/Berenice, Sofia's new friend, came to visit and was afraid of everything.

"On the third day, Sophia came into the guest room and said, "Well, that does it. She's impossible. I got her to dive, but it didn't help."
" Did she really dive?" Grandmother asked.
"Yes, really. I gave her a shove and she dived."
"Oh," Grandmother said. "And then what?"
"Her hair can't take salt water," explained Sophia sadly. "It looks awful. And it was her hair I liked."

The dry wit of this thouroughly amused me. The pithy dialogue between Grandmother and Granddaughter is the best part of the book for me. All in all, I think I am disappointed because I didn't immediately love this book and I wonder whether that was my failing.

I read The Enchanted April in April and in the flourishing of Spring; the Summer Book in the outset of Summer (before the sun stopped shining here); Autumn reading will hopefully include The Autumn of the Patriarch; any suggestions for Winter? It could well be Tove Jansson's The Winter Book; I certainly won't be giving up on her work through a little disappointment and I am even waiting as we speak for a copy of Finn Family Moomintroll to arrive in the post.


verity said...

I love the idea of reading certain books at certain times of year (although I have to say this weekend isn't great for "summer", not here in Oxford anyway!). You've missed The Darling Buds of May...but how about The Christmas Mystery (Jostein Gaarder) for December - it has a chapter for each day of advent.

Paperback Reader said...

This weekend is definitely not summery in London either, Verity! Rather miserable, in fact.
I love reading Christmas books at Christmas, usually it is Dickens' The Christmas Books.

Karen said...

I haven't heard of this one at all - sounds interesting.

Paperback Reader said...

Karen, I learned about the book here:

StuckInABook said...

A pity you didn't like this more - I prefer The Winter Book (or A Winter Book, can never remember what it's called) but it is a quite similar tone, so if this one underwhelmed then I think that might too.

Paperback Reader said...

I'll certainly give it a go in the winter, Simon! I am now in receipt of Finn Family Moomintroll and look forward to reading it.