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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Summer Book

Tove Jansson

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To purchase The Summer Book

Title: The Summer Book
Author: Tove Jansson
Genre: Novel
Written: 1972 (Eng. 1974)
Length: 172 pages
Original in: Swedish
Availability: The Summer Book - US
The Summer Book - UK
The Summer Book - Canada
Le livre d'un été - France
Sommerbuch - Deutschland
  • Swedish title: Sommarboken
  • Translated by Thomas Teal
  • The US (NYRB Classics) edition has an Introduction by Kathryn Davis
  • The UK (Sort Of) edition has a Foreword by Esther Freud

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Our Assessment:

A- : very nicely done

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 9/9/2002 Monika Osberghaus
The Guardian A 12/7/2003 Ali Smith
The Independent . 14/6/2003 Dea Birkett
The LA Times A+ 27/4/2008 Richard Rayner
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 31/7/2002 gew
The Observer . 15/6/2003 Jonathan Heawood

  Review Consensus:

  Very enthusiastic

  From the Reviews:
  • "Die Idylle ist in diesen Episoden so flüchtig wie die kurze Zeit im Frühsommer, in der das Moos blüht und die ganze Insel mit einem warmen, kaum sichtbaren Schleier überzieht. Der Rest ist Nüchternheit, Sturm, prekäres Gleichgewicht." - Monika Osberghaus, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Jansson's brilliance is to create a narrative that seems, at least, to have no forward motion, to exist in lit moments, gleaming dark moments, like lights on a string, each chapter its own beautifully constructed, random-seeming, complete story. Her writing is all magical deception, her sentences simple and loaded; the novel reads like looking through clear water and seeing, suddenly, the depth. As Philip Pullman so succinctly puts it, Tove Jansson was a genius." - Ali Smith, The Guardian

  • "(I)t manages to make you feel good as well as wise, without having to make too much effort. (...) This book is in danger of taking itself rather too seriously; there is a lot of home-spun philosophy but only rare flashes of humour, which nevertheless are very funny. But what makes The Summer Book rise above the realm of happy thoughts for grim times are the observations on being young and growing old: the girl's desperation not to appear frightened of deep water, her grandmother's determination not to let her see that she knew she was." - Dea Birkett, The Independent

  • "Underlying all of this, and making the book cohere, is the subject, not of the microscopic world of the island or the ever-changing mood of the northern summer, but of death -- death awaited, death endured, death raged against and not understood." - Richard Rayner, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Little happens. Major events on the surrounding seas -- the wreckage of a ship carrying a load of fireworks -- are described lightly, while minor details -- the texture of moss after it has been trodden on three times -- are observed with careful honesty. Yet the story clings onto the imagination like the trusting hand of a child, or the clutch of a dying woman, as the two characters stray into and out of life." - Jonathan Heawood, The Observer

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Summer Book collects twenty-two summer scenes and episodes, centred around a young girl, Sophia, and her old grandmother, and the time they spend together on a northern island in the Gulf of Finland. The book covers several summers (and a few chapters are actually set outside that season), but there's barely a sense of chronology here, the summers melding into an indistinct and always similar time.
       There is an absence that haunts the book -- or rather the two characters --, mentioned early on, as Sophia wakes and remembers: "she had a bed to herself because her mother was dead". The grandmother isn't quite a substitute, even though at one point Sophia tries to make her more of one, experimenting with calling her: "Mama".
       Both are strong-willed characters, though the grandmother at times is concerned about Sophia becoming too set in certain ways and tries to teach her how to get by in the world, as in the nice scene where she thinks:

We've got to teach her some manners. We've made a mistake. She has to spend more time with people she doesn't like, before it's too late.
       Much of the time it is just the two of them, with Sophia's father generally in the background, at best, and any other people (or animals) generally not quite fitting into the tight little world they inhabit. Part of this island-society, with its specific expectations and attitudes (including: "They had developed a habit, over the years, of not talking about painful things, in order to make them less painful"), they have a close relationship and that sort of mutual understanding that can develop between generations.
       Jansson's variety of episodes, ranging from those where little of note seems to happen to the modestly dramatic (including one of the great storms in recent memory, which Sophia thinks she caused -- only to have her grandmother take that burden from her), are at best loosely connected, yet this mosaic approach makes for a very rich picture. And even where so little seems to happen, everything is of consequence -- with Jansson's success also built on the fact that she doesn't try to hammer home that point, but rather lets the reader come to see it on their own.
       The Summer Book is a charming work. It feels very light, but is anything but fluff. Well worthwhile.

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The Summer Book: Reviews: Tove Jansson: Other books by Tove Jansson under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Swedish-writing Finnish author Tove Jansson (1914-2001) is best known for her 'Moomin' stories.

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