Island Summers by Tilly Culme-Seymour is a memoir of her family childhood told around the landscape and events which happen on their family’s island summer home in Norway. The house is not well enough insulated to be lived in during the harsh winters but it makes an ideal vacation spot for the extended family over several generations.
The main character of the book is not the author but her grandmother Mor-Mor who dominates the narrative. Mor-Mor is not your typical mother or grandmother but she uses the island as a refuge for her increasingly active and growing family. Because the author knows the island well she is able to describe those holidays in detail and also the way of life. The family spends long summers there after the war and there is lots of detail about the plant and animal life on the island. The ways in which the house is adapted and improved also display the changes in the family dynamics.
In the 1980s the author and her then boyfriend decide to spend the winter on the island because there is the possibility that the island will be sold out of the family. They think they are well prepared for the weather but, of course, that is not the case. Their struggle to survive and keep warm in a house not built for the cold seems in one way a triumph over nature but you do wonder exactly why they bothered to do it and what real value they gained from their sojourn.
This book is, as all family memoirs are, interesting in what it tells you about relationships and how people choose to live especially when they live most of the year in England and only travel to Norway for their summers. The island obviously plays a large part in the memories of the author and their family and this can be seen in the attention to detail of the landscape. I found this interesting enough but thought that there was too much detail on the environment and perhaps too little on some of the family events. Although I found the island an interesting location I like to read more about people.
This book has some things in common with The Summer Book by Tove Jansson which is also about summers spent on a Scandinavian island (in Sweden in this case) but the latter gave me a much greater understanding of the people and their island lives although it doesn’t have the multi-generational focus.