Book: The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
A Journey into the Finnish Summer
by guest author, Michele Simeon
Swedish-speaking Finnish writer Tove Jansson has been called the “laureate of small things” for her astounding ability to capture beauty, darkness, and meaning in deceptively simple details. Jansson’s novel The Summer Book follows an elderly woman and her granddaughter, Sophia, over the course of many summer stays on a remote, Finnish island. Time seems almost suspended in the eternal light of the Nordic summer, and the two protagonists, one at the beginning of life, one at the end, retreat into their shared world of magic, mischief, quarrels, and adventure.
The Summer Book entered my life at just the right moment: my husband and I were in the middle of uprooting our lives in a move from London to Helsinki. Trapped somewhere between happy anticipation and heartbreak, I let Jansson’s evocative descriptions carry me far from the urban jungle to a tiny island in Finland’s Pellinge archipelago.
The authenticity of the novel’s setting shines through and is, perhaps, due in some part to its basis in the actual island and cottage where Jansson and her extended family passed their summers. Such annual migration from town to country is customary in Finland, where places of business and work collectively shut their doors for the month of July.
Although our suitcases weren’t quite destined for a small island in the Gulf of Finland, the measured rhythm of life, embracement of simplicity, and return to nature that the novel portrays are all qualities customarily associated with the Finnish summer. Each of The Summer Book’s twenty-two chapters could be accessed as a self-contained short story, at the heart of which lies a deep communion with nature. From the powerful effect of geographic isolation to the sweet sensation of diving into the sea, Sophia and her grandmother’s interaction with their island natural surroundings permeate the novel:
“Do you know what it feels like when you dive?”
“Of course I do,” her grandmother said. “You let go of everything and get ready and just dive. You can feel the seaweed against your legs. It’s brown, and the water’s clear, lighter towards the top, with lots of bubbles. And you glide. You hold your breath and glide and turn and come up, let yourself rise and breathe out. And then you float. Just float.”
When I first read The Summer Book (because I have read it three times in four years), I had no idea that I’d eventually find myself living in the Finnish countryside in a modest home not unlike Jansson’s beloved summer cottage. Like Sophia, I wish for storms when the weather has been too fine for too long, and I have special parts of this plot of land with special names to accompany them. And now, at the height of summer, I lose track of time in the abiding northern light, and marvel that this once distant, foreign land has become my home too.
Michele says: I’m a freelance writer and award-winning literary translator. Since moving with my husband to our friend’s lakeside eco-cottage, I’ve written A House Called Nut about our pursuit of a simpler, greener life in the Finnish countryside.
Michele, thank you so much for introducing us to this enticing book about Finland. And lucky Library, Michele will return in three days with another book by Tove Jansson!I have always felt that life in Scandinavia is influenced by the seasons in a way that people from a more moderate climate cannot understand. How about you, reader? Have you lived in a place where the seasons dominated everyone’s lives?
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