“The Summer Book” and “A Winter Book” by Tove Jansson – two books of short stories by the author of The Moomins

Tove Jansson is best known as the creator of those children’s favourites the Moomins but the Finnish author and illustrator also published books for adults. The best known of these is The Summer Book which is a series of short stories/episodes which tell of a summer which a small girl spends with her grandmother on a Finnish island. The book has no real plot but concentrates on describing the relationship that builds between the two and their connection with nature.

The grandmother in the stories is sometimes wise and lovely, and sometimes grumpy and unfriendly. The little girl, Sophia appears to be about 6 or 8 years’ old but sometimes behaves as an adult. On occasion the two seem to change roles. The viewpoint also shifts, sometimes apparently randomly, between the two. The result is that you wonder whether this is written by the girl who is now a grandmother and who has a granddaughter of her own. It works well enough and there are other characters, including Father who is always doing something somewhere else and doesn’t really appear as a main figure in the story.

The joy of these stories is in the descriptions, of the landscape and of the relationships. The author obviously knows the islands well and she describes the larger landscape as well as small things such as how a pebble looks or how a bird behaves. She understands what it is like to be very young and also much older.The writing is joyous and beautifully crafted. These short stories are a pleasure to read.

 When the publishers wished to translate and bring to the public other short stories by this author they named the collection A Winter Book and made it look similar to the first volume. These stories, however, are definitely short stories rather than episodes in a longer tale. They seem biographical and take place at various pints in the life of a woman. Some of them don’t have any definite conclusion and others seem to memorialise difficult times. They vary in length and subject.

I’m not a great short story reader and I didn’t really enjoy this second book the way that I did the first but there is lots to appreciate – just don’t imagine that the themed name and similar presentation means that this book is like The Summer Book because it is different in character and its overall mood is melancholic rather than joyous.

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