Book Club / The Summer Book | Book Club

summerbook

Tessa Shaw is the co-founder of the bookshop Ink@84. She also happens to know a lot about Tove Jansson – the author we are celebrating this month. So, rather than our regular book review (usually written by Tessa’s co-founder, Betsy) we have a brief introduction to the extraordinary life of Tove and to The Summer Book – a piece of writing that inspired our spring campaign. Though the book club exists in a purely digital sphere we hope that you will add your own opinions and thoughts below.*

First, a confession: I am a fan of Tove Jansson. She is probably Finland’s most famous export, mainly for her quirky, hippo-like, imaginary characters, the Moomins. They began as anti-fascist cartoons, her first one apparently drawn in the loo to look like Immanuel Kant, but they soon developed into a worldwide phenomenon. Disney saw the potential but Tove and her family resisted. It is this unconventional bohemian independence (the essence of the Moomin spirit) that sums up Tove’s artistic philosophy.

She was born in 1919 in Finland to Swedish-speaking artist parents. They encouraged Tove in her art and from an early age she helped her mother with her political cartooning. Tove went on to study art in Stockholm, Paris, Rome and Helsinki and was holding exhibitions long before the Moomins took over her life. It was her third Moomin Book, Finn Family Moomintroll, which propelled her into the limelight. The London Evening News commissioned her to produce a regular cartoon strip that was syndicated worldwide, making her and her characters into household names.

Yet this fame was something that Tove would come to find deeply destabilising. At heart Tove was an extremely private person with a pure love of painting and creating – simple values that were difficult to reconcile with her celebratory status. Her escape came in the form of an island.

It is customary in Finnish culture to withdraw from the city in the summer, and to spend the warmer months amongst the islands in the Gulf of Finland. Tove herself had spent much of her childhood on her own family’s island in the Pellinki archipelago, pottering by the sea, creating art and playing make believe. So, when the outside world became too much, Tove and her partner Tuulikki (whom she was with from 1956 until her death in 2001) found Klovharun – a remote spit of rock with not even a tree on it, nor water or electricity, some 40 minutes from her usual summer retreat. A one-room hut was built, with a basement sauna and for 28 years the pair continued to live there during the summer months. It was their den in the middle of nowhere, surrounded only by sea and sky, to work in and be themselves. It was (and still is) an extraordinary beautiful space.

I know this because last summer I stayed on her island with my family. When Tove was there she raised a flag. Today, if you are lucky enough to stay, the tradition continues. A key is placed outside her hut and if you land on the island you can have a look inside; on her desk are glass jars filled with the shells she collected, her books are on the shelves, the wind still blows and the birds nestle under the eaves. And if you are staying there when guests arrive, you must welcome them with true Moomin openness.

When Tove’s mother died in 1971 she was so grief stricken that she took off around the world and started to write adult fiction, the most famous of which is The Summer Book – a Scandinavian classic. She had been incredibly close to her mother and The Summer Book reflects her musings on life and death. It is the story of a young girl and her grandmother spending the summer on Tove’s childhood island. The grandmother is irascible, bloody-minded and naughty; the granddaughter is demanding of adventures. Through their relationship you observe the minutiae of the long island days, the games they create, and the mischief they make.

“When are you going to die?” the child asked.

And Grandmother answered. “Soon. But that is not the least concern of yours.”

“Why?” her grandchild asked.

She didn’t answer. She walked out on the rock and on towards the ravine.

“We’re not allowed out there!” Sophia screamed.

“I know,” the old woman answered disdainfully. “Your father won’t let either one of us go out to the ravine, but we’re going anyway, because your father is asleep and he won’t know.”

It’s a book to have in your cupboard, to return to when you need to slow down and appreciate the true value of relationships, to think about how we live and spend our time, a chance to reflect on what it is all about….

thesummerbook

*All who comment will be entered into a prize draw to win one of our new tote bags.

Read more reviews from the TOAST Book Club or search for your local bookshop here.

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33 Comments

  • I gave this book to my 97 year old grandmother about 2years ago. She read it with aid of her magnifying glass. Her comments after were, ‘I felt like a child again, remembering my summers as if yesterday. They went on forever, the big skies. . .’

  • I used to live in Scandinavia, have traveled to Finland often and find Tove Jansson a very creditable recorder of life in her own era. I have all her books ( but people keep stealing them! )

  • I can almost feel the sunshine that surrounds this book…can’t wait to read it! ☀️

  • Just the book to read in the last cold days, waiting for summer – but I think of the island as a character too, with its own secret winter life continuing after we’ve all gone away again.

  • I’m so pleased to have stumbled upon this, I can’t wait to read it.

  • Beautiful book. it can be re-visited time after time and still there are revelations.

  • I read “The Summer Book” whilst on holiday in Cornwall a couple of years ago. I just loved it, and it inspired my own writing. I have read “The Sculptor’s Daughter”, Tove’s recollections from childhood, and “The True Deceiver”, both of which I enjoyed. The True Deceiver’s main character is an artist famed for, and trapped by, painting pretty rabbits-echoes of Tove’s own success and associated pitfalls, perhaps. The Summer Book remains my favourite though, in fact, I must re-read it.

  • It’s one of my favourite books ever. I love the feeling of summer childhood that provokes within myself.

  • We have been inspired by childhood stories of a Finnish friend and are planning to visit this beautiful country later this year . Perfect time to relax & enjoy ‘The Summer Book ‘.

  • About a week ago, a lovely lady suggested that I might need to take some time to re-centre; loosen up; mellow out. In my quest to practice a little calm and mindfulness I stumbled across this beautiful book on the TOAST magazine. A crooked piece of driftwood, or a beautifully ugly charcoal drawing; these are the things that Tove encourages us to appreciate; to fall in love with the ordinary, and marvel in simplicity. Consider yourself re-centred. A spring cleaning of the mind was definitely in order and Tove has lent a helping hand in dusting out the cobwebs. I feel blissfully happy about it, and all the richer for having its well thumbed pages take pride of place on my bedside table.

  • Cant’ wait to read it. Thank you.

  • I found this book by chance and so much enjoyed it that I force it upon my friends. They love it too! Will seek out The Winter Book now.

  • I love that you’re featuring this wonderful book. It’s become a bit of a tradition that every summer I re-read The Summer Book. Living on the East Anglian coast doesn’t seem so far away from those Scandinavian islands, with our shared sea and sky. I loved the Moomin books as a child and to find this and The Winter Book was such a treat. So the Book is there on the shelf, waiting for summer to arrive ..

    • Thank you for your comments, Jennifer. We are envious of your home by the sea! And intrigued to hear about your tradition of re-reading The Summer Book each year, what a lovely way to start the season. TOAST

  • I just read about this book and have ordered it straight away!
    It sounds intriguing.
    I can’t wait to hear other recommendations, as I am new to your newsletter…

  • A firm favourite. I read this book every summer. It gets more life-affirming the older I get. I’m also a tiny bit in love with the Winter Book and the Listener. I still have all my childhood Moomin books.

  • I picked up one of the cards in the Brighton shop with the quote from the book screen printed. So beautiful. I will read the book and find out more about Tove.

  • This is one of the most magical books I have ever read and after reading this I purchased it as birthday presents for friends! I have now started collecting and reading all of Janssons’ adult works, the evocative and minilamistic style of writing is just beautiful, bold and cuts to the heart – an inspiration of a book and a writer…

  • I just happened to have returned from my first trip to Finland and Tove Jansson is now one of my favourite authors. I fell in love with the Moomins. Most definitely I will seek out The Summer Book. Thank you! Leisa

  • Thank you for such a great choice. I read the Summer Book last summer after visiting a friend who lives on the outskirts of Stockholm. I loved it, and now you’ve inspired me to want to re-read it.

  • What an inspirational read. Quintessential reading this Spring whilst wearing my new top from Toast and waiting for long summer days! Thank you!

  • Love this book! I should really read it again, thanks for the reminder! Also can´t wait to read it to my daughter when she is older.

  • I read ‘The Summer Book’ in the autumn. It’s tender story telling has stayed with me a long time. Mindful reading at its best.

  • A lovely book to add to my birthday wish list.

  • I love this book. I was fortunate to live with my tall, willowy Danish grandmother as a child and this book brings back those memories.
    I think Unikko flowery fabric from Marimekko is probably a famous Finnish export too!
    I didn’t realise there is also a winter book, am now looking forward to reading that.

  • When you first introduced this book to me via Toast catalogues many summers ago I bought the book and was immediately transported to the gentle delights of the brief but perfect Finnish summer when everyone spends their waking hours enjoying the fresh air and solitude in the clear fresh air.

    The relationship behind the off-beat grandmother and the goody two shoes girl was delightful and this slim volume is a must for those seeking an easy, relaxing read anytime not just summer!

  • As a Moomin fan, I have already read The Winter Book by Tove Jansson and this review makes me want to read The Summer Book and also go to Finland.

  • For a long time I have wanted to buy and read this book I am re-inspired

  • This seems absolutely perfect for a summer holiday read. Thank you x

  • Fiona Vernède

    A lovely a friend was recommended to read after having her first child because it is such a gentle read. I found it just flowed and was a joy to read.

  • How fantastic, I can’t believe that just yesterday evening I was thinking I should reread this excellent book (on my bookshelf alongside Tove Janssons ‘Winter Book’). You’ve given me the perfect reason to indulge again in one of my favourite books.
    Sophie and her grandmother are great characters.

  • Thanks for the great review of one of my most favourite writers and artists. Finland is such an extraordinarily creative country – I also loved reading the Sculpture’s Daughter which gives a real insight into Tove’s upbringing