Summer Book by Tove Jansson

Doubtless all that can be said about this charming collection has been. I don’t understand why it is called a novel – it’s prose, it’s longer than a short story, therefore it’s a novel? In fact this is 22 small pieces contained and constrained by setting and character. Everybody will have the points in this book that stand out for them in some way. My bookmark has stayed here:

Here you come, headlong into a tight little group of people who have always lived together, who have the habit of moving around each other on land they know and own and understand, and every threat to what they’re used to only makes them still more compact and self-assured. 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.

For a book like this to come to be available to a person like me, Englishly and stubbornly mono-lingual, requires some work. When the re-issue I read referred to the ‘flawless’ translation by Thomas Teal, I wondered who he is. An online search won’t exactly bombard you with details. He is an American who has a degree in Scandinavian literature and languages and lived/worked in various parts of Scandinavia for some years. Translation is what he does for love, not money, a familiar tune, no doubt. He has a particular association with Jansson’s work.

I also wondered about the publisher of my edition. ‘Sort of‘ books is a small UK publisher, the kind of organisation one hopes survives the trashing of the publishing middleman going on right now. They certainly seem to have an eye for what to go with. There is an acceptance speech of an award for the translation of True Deceivers by Teal, in which he tells a great story about Sort of books and the part they play in his standing there. You can see it here – fast forward to the 7 minute mark.

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