The Summer Book
by Tove Jansson
translated from Swedish by Thomas Teal
This Scandinavian modern classic isn’t well known over here. I forget which book blogger alerted me to its existence but whoever you are, thank you! It is a thoroughly lovely book.
It’s the story of young Sophia (her age is never given exactly) and her grandmother over the course of a few summers spent at their family home on a tiny island in the gulf of Finland. The events are mostly small, such as Sophia’s first camping experience or going “gathering”. (Note: I’m not sure if the quotes I’ve chosen convey this, but I did find the writing style took some getting used to. It feels a little simplistic, as if a child is being addressed. But once used to it I enjoyed this style.)
“Gathering is peculiar, because you see nothing but what you’re looking for. If you’re picking raspberries, you see only what’s red, and if you’re looking for bones you see only the white. No matter where you go, the only thing you see is bones…Sophia and Grandmother carried everything they found to the magic forest. They would usually go at sundown. They decorated the ground under the trees with bone arabesques like ideographs, and when they finished their patterns they would sit for a while and talk.”
Continue reading “You see nothing but what you’re looking for”
Many years ago, my sister won a fancy dress competition dressed as British summertime. She wore a swimsuit, kagoule and wellies and carried a bucket, spade and umbrella. And most summers that’s pretty accurate: we’re hopeful but ultimately disappointed. But this year, well it’s been a bit special.
After a month of what felt like solid rain, the sun came out in time for the school summer holidays and, of course, the Olympics. The whole country suddenly found its national pride and got excited about…sport. I’m a little sad that it’s ending today. The Olympics, that is. I’m hoping the summer carries on a little longer.
In-between watching far too much TV we have been enjoying the sunshine with a bit of gardening:
and a trip to a city farm:
All of which means I have done very little reading. I have finally started reading Evelyn Waugh for the first time, and am greatly enjoying Vile Bodies. What have you been up to? Are you squeezing any reading into your summer activities (assuming it’s summer where you are)?
We keep on doing lots of stuff with our weekends. Mostly of the fun variety, which is good, but it isn’t half cutting into my reading time!
Last weekend we went to visit my family. As my Nan has been ill we dropped by to see her and my Grandad, which was lovely as she is now doing well. We saw my Mum’s new house that she moved into a few weeks ago. I got to spend time with my little brother who I hardly ever see. I showed Tim a few more sights from my younger days. And we enjoyed being in the countryside. Even if it was raining almost constantly.
Before we came home, my Dad had the brilliant idea to take me and Tim fossil hunting. That was so much fun! We were on the Severn Estuary and it was hideously muddy but we found loads of real actual fossils, which was amazing. And the dog had a whale of a time.
This weekend I went to London to see my friend H while our menfolk did their man thing at Farnborough Airshow. I finally got to go to Persephone Books, which is just as wonderful as I had imagined. Huge thanks to H for taking me there and buying me one of their beautiful books. We also talked endlessly and painted our nails and had a generally brilliant time.
It’s all been great. But I’m still a teeny bit glad that we don’t have much planned for the next few weekends. What have you been up to lately?
Well I think the rain is confirming that summer is now over. It’s been a busy one and as a result I haven’t blogged or read as much as I had hoped to. I have, however, had a lot of fun, some of which was caught on film – or rather, camera sensor. Here are some photographic highlights.
Chilling with good friends,
a trip to Cornwall,
impressive acrobatics at Bristol Harbourside Festival,
an astronomy fair during a trip to Devon
and some more meanders around Bristol with good friends.
Edit: I just noticed that this is my 50th post, which doesn’t seem that many at all, but it’s still a milestone so yay! 50 posts!
translated by Roger Senhouse
Colette is one of those highly rated authors whose works I continue to read but fail to be bowled over by. I think I understand the attraction but I am not personally attracted.
This book is, based on my experience, a typical example. The story is simple, the writing is simple, with lucid descriptions and a lot of detail about the setting. Characters’ thoughts and feelings are voiced and yet we never truly get to know them. Perhaps it doesn’t help that the book is so short.
Vinca and Philippe’s families have holidayed together in Brittany every summer of their young lives. They have grown up together thick as thieves, under the assumption that their innocent friendship will one day turn into marriage. But this summer Vinca is 15 and Phil is 16 and suddenly teenage hormones make it hard to remain innocent. The appearance of a mysterious older woman in Phil’s life only complicates things further.
The storyline is largely predictable because, well, people are. There is a definite air of sadness about the loss of innocence; in fact I found the point to be pressed a little too hard. Maybe it’s because I was never sad to leave my childhood behind (because I was always eager to grow up, not because I had a bad childhood), but I find it hard to relate to this series of delicate, poignant moments.
Some of the language is beautiful and the story has stood the test of time pretty well, which I think is greatly helped by the seaside setting – kids still swim, rockpool, clamber over rocks and largely exist without noticing their parents.
I will continue to buy Colette’s books when I spot them in second-hand bookshops (few if any of her books are still in print in English) because they’re not bad and maybe one will touch me and get me enthusing.
First published 1923.
This translation first published 1955.
Thought I’d share my favourite poem with you, as the lovely weather has put me in a poetic sort of mood.
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
Written by William Butler Yeats (1865–1939).
First published in The Wind Among the Reeds (1899).