The Summer Book is a profoundly life-affirming story. Written in an unsentimental style, the book is deceptively simple, yet full of wisdom and comfort. This article explores the best-selling novel, with some hand-picked quotes from the book.
The Summer Book by Tove Jansson was first published in 1972. Having spent a lot of time in the Nordic archipelago, the novel captures much of Tove Jansson’s own life and spirit, and remained her own favourite out of her adult novels.
Exploring themes of nature, love and inter-generational relationships, the story brings together three people and three generations: a six-year-old girl, a father and an old grandmother. It’s a humane story that focuses on the unique friendship between the young Sophia and her grandmother, spending their summer together on an island far out in the archipelago.
The novel celebrated its 50-year anniversary last year, and is currently being adapted for the big screen, starring Glenn Close. The book has a 4,04 rating in Goodreads based on nearly 35,000 reviews, and amongst readers worldwide, is widely respected by critics and other authors.
Author Elizabeth Gilbert recommended The Summer Book in The New York Times as a read that brings her comfort. She has long been a big fan of the novel.
The Summer Book “is one of my top ten favorite books of all time, for it is a perfect and unsentimental tale of two ungovernable females at loose in nature, and it thrills me.”
Based on an island in the Gulf of Finland, the story wraps around a very small world, filled with curiosity about the mundane – or what may at first seem mundane. Nearly 50 years since its publication, this theme felt close to heart to many during the global pandemic.
“For Tove, this potentially claustrophobic world was endlessly stimulating. Reading The Summer Book 15 years ago I was struck by the way the island felt like my childhood house and garden: a vast world, full of imaginative potential. Rereading it now, in lockdown, the book feels like a survival guide.
The Guardian, 2020
The small island world brings nuance and moments that can affect the reader very differently, depending on where they are in their own life. The book is often recommended as an annual read, with room to experience the characters, the underlying emotions, or the island in a new way each time.
“Nothing seems to happen in The Summer Book—the unspeakable, awful event has just occurred—so small things take on great importance, the way they can when you are either very young or very old, for this is a dual coming-of-age story. “
Quotes from The Summer Book
About age and ageing
“How silly, she thought. Why could I never bring myself to tell him I hate sherry? And now it’s too late. It really was a shame, seeing that she had now reached the age where a person can safely be truthful about small things.”
“A very long time ago, Grandmother had wanted to tell about all the things they did, but no one had bothered to ask. And now she had lost the urge.”
“Wise as she was, she realised that people can postpone their rebellious phases until they’re eighty-five years old, and she decided to keep an eye on herself.”
“To the final landscape of our old age, as summer fades. This is a fine moment. Silence settles around us, each of us wanders his own way, and yet we all meet by the sea in the peaceful sunset.”
“It’s funny about me,” Sophia said. “I always feel like such a nice girl whenever there’s a storm.”
“After a while Sophia asked, “Are you sure the door is closed?”
“It’s open,” her grandmother said. “It’s always open; you can sleep quite easy.””
“It’s funny about love’, Sophia said. ‘The more you love someone, the less he likes you back.’
‘That’s very true,’ Grandmother observed. ‘And so what do you do?’
‘You go on loving,’ said Sophia threateningly. ‘You love harder and harder.”
About living on an island
“The wind was always blowing on this island, from one direction or another. A sanctuary for someone with work to do, a wild garden for someone growing up, but otherwise just days on top of days, and passing time.”
“A small island, on the other hand, takes care of itself. It drinks melting snow and spring rain and, finally, dew, and if there is a drought, the island waits for the next summer and grows its flowers then instead. The flowers are used to it, and wait quietly in their roots. There’s no need to feel sorry for the flowers, Grandmother said.”
“An island can be dreadful for someone from outside. Everything is complete, and everyone has his obstinate, sure and self-sufficient place. Within their shores, everything functions according to rituals that are as hard as rock from repetition, and at the same time they amble through their days as whimsically and casually as if the world ended at the horizon.”
Memories of summer
Dive deeper into The Summer Book story and watch this video of Sophia Jansson, Tove Jansson’s niece, talking about the book and what the story means to her.
The Summer Book film will be directed by Charlie McDowell (Windfall, The one I love) and starred by 8x Oscar-nominated Glenn Close.
Why not head to a Moomin exhibition on a rainy day this summer – here are the most interesting Moomin and Tove Jansson exhibitions around!
Moomin stories and Finland: seven ways Finland inspired Tove Jansson when creating the Moomin stories, from Midsummer to the Nordic nature.