Sienna's Reviews > The Summer Book

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
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's review
May 05, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: 2012, kindle
Read in May, 2012

Recommended if you like to love. This reminded me of Madeleine L'Engle's extraordinary Crosswicks Journals with its gentle, elegant treatment of life and death. I chuckled whenever religion popped up with the sleek head and dark, unfathomable eyes of a seal, the inevitable disagreement rising in a crescendo. I felt my breath catch when two people near the end of their lives discussed the problem of hobbies. Chapter after chapter stunned with simple honesty, humor and wisdom. (Grandmother was not the only source of the latter, appropriately: Sophia proved she had been named well.) Here's a sample, chosen somewhat arbitrarily from the forty-two passages I couldn't resist highlighting — only somewhat, because one of my strangest, most beloved childhood memories involved accompanying my parents to a hillside paddock beside some of the groves for which Orange County was named, once upon a time, and collecting cattle bones that we then carried home in plastic grocery bags along the main street of my hometown. There may have been an incident with a bull, and those bovine skeletons may still have a home with my folks. Anyway:

Gathering is peculiar, because you see nothing but what you're looking for. If you're picking raspberries, you see only what's red, and if you're looking for bones you see only the white. No matter where you go, the only thing you see is bones. Sometimes they are as thin as needles, extremely fine and delicate, and have to be handled with great care. Sometimes they are large, heavy thighbones, or a cage of ribs buried in the sand like the timbers of a shipwreck. Brones come in a thousand shapes and every one of them has its own structure.

But that's not enough. Sophia's experiment with camping — following in the trailblazing footsteps of a grandmother who had made the activity possible for female Scouts — is a perfect little microcosm:

A very long time ago, Grandmother had wanted to tell about all the things they did, but no one had bothered to ask. And now she had lost the urge.

"We had campfires," she answered briefly, and suddenly she felt sad.

"And what else?"

"There was a log that burned for a long time. We sat around the fire. It was cold out. We ate soup."

That's strange, Grandmother thought. I can't describe things anymore. I can't find the words, or maybe it's just that I'm not trying hard enough. It was such a long time ago. No one here was even born. And unless I tell it because I want to, it's as if it never happened; it gets closed off and then it's lost. She sat up and said, "Some days I can't remember very well. But sometime you ought to try and sleep in a tent all night."


The sheltering tent had let in all the night, as close as if she'd been sleeping on the open ground. More birds cried in various ways, and the darkness was filled with strange movements and sounds, the kind no one can trace or account for. The kind no one can even describe.

"Oh, dear God," Sophia said, "don't let me get scared!" And immediately she started thinking about what it would be like to get scared. "Oh, dear God, don't let them make fun of me if I
do get scared!"

She really listened for the first time in her life. And when she got out in the ravine, she noticed for the first time what the ground felt like under her toes and the soles of her feet. It was cold, grainy, terribly complicated ground that changed as she walked — gravel and wet grass and big flat stones, and every now and then some plant as high as a bush would brush against her legs. The ground was dark, but the sky had a faint, grey light. The island had grown tiny, floating on the water like a drifting leaf, but there was a light in the guest room window. Sophia knocked very gently, because every sound had become too large.

I haven't the time or energy to do this little book justice tonight, except to say: Never having been there, I've no desire to leave Jansson's little island.
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Helen Heath I love this book!

message 2: by Diann (new) - added it

Diann Sullivan Sienna, never mind the book. Your review is enough in itself. I promise to read, however, on your recommend!

Sienna I think you'll love it — it's a quick, easy read, perfect for days off, but with a lot of depth and heart. Best to hold off until you guys stop having near-freezing nights, though. :)

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