This might feel like a weird read to pick up, just as we plunge headlong into winter, but The Summer Book could be just the supçon of Scandinavian escapism you need right now. You may recognise the name of the author too, Tove Jansson wrote the Moomin books, but this is a tale for adults, despite it’s naive, almost fairytale nature.
If you’ve ever been to the Swedish archipelago this will bring back fond memories, but even if you haven’t, the rich descriptions paint a vivid picture. Even more compelling are the slightly bonkers exchanges between Sophia (age six) and her elderly grandmother as they journey about their tiny island in the gulf of Finland on one long summer holiday. It is scandinavian eccentricity at its best and plays on that wonderful dynamic when the very young, and very old, converge.
“Sophia and Grandmother sat down by the shore to discuss the matter further. It was a pretty day, and the sea was running a long, windless swell. It was on days just like this −dog days− that boats went sailing off all by themselves. Large, alien objects made their way in from sea, certain things sank and others rose, milk soured, and dragonflies danced in desperation. Lizards were not afraid. When the moon came up, red spiders mated on uninhabited skerries, where the rock became an unbroken carpet of tiny, ecstatic spiders.
‘Maybe we ought to warn Papa,’ Sophia said.
‘I don’t think he’s superstitious,” Grandmother said. ‘For that matter, superstition is old-fashioned, and you should always believe your father.’
‘Of course,’ Sophia said.
The swell carried in a big crown of twisted branches, as if some gigantic animal were wandering slowly in along the sea bed. The air above the rock stood still and quivered with the heat.
‘Didn’t your grandmother ever get scared?’ Sophia said.
‘No, but she liked to scare other people. She’d come in to breakfast and say that now someone was going to die before the moon set, because the knives were crossed in the drawer. Or she would have had a dream about black birds.’
‘I dreamed about a guinea pig last night,’ Sophia said. ‘Do you promise to be careful and not break any bones before the moon sets?’
Tove Jansson, The Summer Book
London, 2003, Sort of Books, pp. 160-161
Photography: via unsplash