The Summer Book – Tove Jansson

This wise and wistful book narrates many episodes in the life of an old woman living with her young granddaughter Sophia on a remote Finnish island. The relationship between the two is sweet, yet unsentimental. Sophia’s father lives with them too, but he is often away and the two are left to themselves in the isolated and harsh environment.

Jansson depicts Sophia’s bluff seriousness very well. She reminds me of the children in another classic Nordic book: All the Dear Little Animals by the Swedish writer Ulf Nilsson. Maybe the writers in that part of the world are good at writing children’s characters. Or maybe the kids in that part of the world incline more to that personality type.

But apart from Sophia, Grandmother is really the main character. We gather a lot of her attitudes to life, growing old, and her family. She definitely does not romanticise their lifestyle, but it still holds some appeal for me. I don’t know if it’s still possible to live like that – this book was written 50 years ago – so it’s unlikely I will ever get to find out for myself. Still, Jansson wrote many more books (as well as the wonderful Moomin comic books) so at least I can still read myself into that way of life.

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