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Tuesday, March 08, 2005

THE SUMMER BOOK-Tove Jansson

Am still not wholly sure that I was the right audience for this book –at least from the writer’s point of view. That, and also the literal expanses of land and sea between this tale’s settings and my own cloistered coordinates.

The Summer Book is a recounting of a relationship between Sophia, a motherless six-year old and her grandmother during a carefree summer vacation spent on a remote outpost of an island in the Gulf of Finland.

The book is divided into separate chapters based on incidents that occur on the island as they explore every nook and cranny of the island. Each chapter accords itself as a vignette of their stay on the island, as they revel in the manifold delights of discovery, adventure and even danger and fear as their lives are threatened by a fearful storm.

Sophia and her lively Gran talk and sulk, argue and bicker, revisit old memories and file away new ones. Expectedly, Sophia’s opinions are at once childish, precocious and incisive, just as her Gran’s are measured, stark, and built on experience. Both extremely credible characters—most readers would certainly relate to all that transpires in the summer, and that adds to the realism of the book. Sophia’s father is by far the only other character in the book, if one were to ignore the variety of interesting flora and fauna that show up on the way. His is a “non-speaking part”, but his presence can be felt by the reader, as he flits from venue to venue embroiled in the pressures of his work.

The bond between granddaughter and grandmother is a tenuous one, fraught with complete acceptance and understanding, with the elder making mental notes every now and then, and with the younger unfettered with queries on Death, Marriage, Work and other sombre stuff.

The author’s profound love for the Scandinavian geography is appealing—though most Indian readers would struggle to visualize life on an island where there is only one family living, the vicissitudes of Nature, the sun not setting till about four in the morning, the pleasures of building your own home, and (at least for me !) the distant memories of an endless summer holiday with nothing to do.

No elaborate thematic dramatization marks any of the chapters and hence the narration is comfortably loose, fluid and interesting. The prose is breezy, summery, languid, unimposing and makes for easy reading.

For the record, the characters are loosely based on the author’s own mother and niece, whose photographs too appear in the book. Jansson is far better known for her Moomin series, which I will take up soon.

I’ll give it a 7.5 on 10 !
(Ed—Influenced by your favourable disposition to both your grannies )






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