By the author of the Finn Family Moomintroll (Moomintrolls) books, which like many children’s classics are wise and strange, alternating comfort with manageable scares, and filled with the closely observed details of a world familiar to the author but alien to many readers. The same can be said of the adult novel The Summer Book (New York Review Books Classics), though the fears addressed are rather less easily manageable.

Jannson spent much of her life on a tiny island off the coast of Finland, and The Summer Book, which reads like a memoir regardless of its actual autobiographical content or lack of same, is set on a similar island. Sophia, a six-year-old girl filled with the irrational moods and passions of the very young, and her grandmother, filled with the layered experience and perspective of the very old, live on it along with Sophia’s father, who is a benign but occasional presence, and a great deal of wildlife.

There is virtually no plot, just a series of character portraits and incidents: a child visits to keep Sophia company and ends up annoying the entire family, a cat fails to live up to Sophia’s ideals, the grandmother creates sculptures in a forest, a family friend with an unnamed boat salvages floating whiskey and fireworks which don’t go off. Jansson gets more emotional mileage out of a flooded dollhouse than many authors get from a natural disaster.

Sophia’s mother has died, a fact which is mentioned exactly once, and her grandmother is in poor health; the submerged story is of mortality, of what it’s like to face the end of life and what it’s like to face the beginning. Both are frightening and require careful attention to the small details; both enable those details to be observed with crystalline clarity. Every word and image counts, the psychology of little children and animals is dead-on, and there’s a lot of dry, sardonic humor.

Some of my favorite books and shows and movies are in this genre, stories about people and places and the way things and jobs and ecologies work, with conventional plot either dispensed with or appearing as an afterthought: Rumer Godden’s In This House of Brede, in which the day-to-day work of a nunnery is prayer made physical; Anita Desai’s Peacock Garden Desai Long Ago (no relation to the Godden book of the same name), in which a girl hiding from the violence of Partition within a mosque’s walled garden finds it a miniature paradise; the anime and manga Mushi-shi: The Complete Series, which do have plots but are really about the intricate and beautiful workings of an entirely invented magical ecology; the movie My Neighbor Totoro, with its soot sprites and the cat bus and spirits waiting with umbrellas; Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, perhaps the prototype of all these stories of small worlds, of growing things and growing children, of life and death and profound spiritual revelations embodied in a single blade of grass.

Thank you very much, [livejournal.com profile] madam_silvertip! I loved it and I never even heard of it till it arrived in the mail.
By the author of the Finn Family Moomintroll (Moomintrolls) books, which like many children’s classics are wise and strange, alternating comfort with manageable scares, and filled with the closely observed details of a world familiar to the author but alien to many readers. The same can be said of the adult novel The Summer Book (New York Review Books Classics), though the fears addressed are rather less easily manageable.

Jannson spent much of her life on a tiny island off the coast of Finland, and The Summer Book, which reads like a memoir regardless of its actual autobiographical content or lack of same, is set on a similar island. Sophia, a six-year-old girl filled with the irrational moods and passions of the very young, and her grandmother, filled with the layered experience and perspective of the very old, live on it along with Sophia’s father, who is a benign but occasional presence, and a great deal of wildlife.

There is virtually no plot, just a series of character portraits and incidents: a child visits to keep Sophia company and ends up annoying the entire family, a cat fails to live up to Sophia’s ideals, the grandmother creates sculptures in a forest, a family friend with an unnamed boat salvages floating whiskey and fireworks which don’t go off. Jansson gets more emotional mileage out of a flooded dollhouse than many authors get from a natural disaster.

Sophia’s mother has died, a fact which is mentioned exactly once, and her grandmother is in poor health; the submerged story is of mortality, of what it’s like to face the end of life and what it’s like to face the beginning. Both are frightening and require careful attention to the small details; both enable those details to be observed with crystalline clarity. Every word and image counts, the psychology of little children and animals is dead-on, and there’s a lot of dry, sardonic humor.

Some of my favorite books and shows and movies are in this genre, stories about people and places and the way things and jobs and ecologies work, with conventional plot either dispensed with or appearing as an afterthought: Rumer Godden’s In This House of Brede, in which the day-to-day work of a nunnery is prayer made physical; Anita Desai’s Peacock Garden Desai Long Ago (no relation to the Godden book of the same name), in which a girl hiding from the violence of Partition within a mosque’s walled garden finds it a miniature paradise; the anime and manga Mushi-shi: The Complete Series, which do have plots but are really about the intricate and beautiful workings of an entirely invented magical ecology; the movie My Neighbor Totoro, with its soot sprites and the cat bus and spirits waiting with umbrellas; Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, perhaps the prototype of all these stories of small worlds, of growing things and growing children, of life and death and profound spiritual revelations embodied in a single blade of grass.

Thank you very much, [livejournal.com profile] madam_silvertip! I loved it and I never even heard of it till it arrived in the mail.
.

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Powered by Dreamwidth Studios

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags