An eighty-eight-year-old artist and her six-year-old granddaughter, Sophia, spend their summers on a little island on the Gulf of Finland. Their walks around the islet — something that the unimaginative may accomplish in a mere four minutes and a half (Freud, 2003) — expand its borders to immensity. The Summer Book, published by Tove Jansson in 1972, has never gone out of print in Scandinavia. Possibly because its passages, like untamed fables, can cypher the mysteries of nature and the intricacies of the world in all their complexity — with all their light and darkness; through the sacred and the mundane — and every time, with every new reading, they leave us as mesmerized as children.
Sophia and her grandmother, cranky and unobliging, know how to test each other, play along, and get carried away in conversations about death, about the extraordinary ability of angleworms to come apart, about angels who (obviously) wear dresses, about unrequited love with a surly cat. They find strands of beauty in every corner; in the daintiness of moss, which "is terribly frail. Step on it once and it rises the next time it rains. The second time, it doesn’t rise back up. And the third time you step on moss, it dies.", in flowers that grow in the cracks of granite, in the insides of a cave that “smells like rot and it’s very pretty, and right at the back it’s holy because that’s where God lives, in a little box maybe”. Jansson lures us into to her summer garden, to nestle in the exquisite logic of those who have already turned the color of the landscape.
The summer book, Esther Freud Trans., London, Sort of Books, 2003