The Summer Book

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The Summer Book

Post by Rebecca H. on Tue Feb 01, 2011 3:07 pm

It's high time I got this going. So -- what do people want to discuss about the book? I loved it, particularly the character of the grandmother and the way she seems so childlike, and yet so obviously good at dealing with Sophia. The way she takes play so seriously will stay with me, I think.

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Re: The Summer Book

Post by dsimpson on Tue Feb 01, 2011 6:31 pm

I really liked this as well. Now that you say that about the grandmother--sometimes Sophia felt like the one mothering--making sure she always had her medicine or checking if she needed to rest.

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Re: The Summer Book

Post by Stefanie on Tue Feb 01, 2011 11:30 pm

I liked Grandmother very much. She is wise but no infallible, likes to nap but worries about losing memories. I loved the description of her carving the dead trees in the magical forest. But my favorite description of her is in "The Enormous Plastic Sausage" at the end when it is raining:

Grandmother had had to be frugal all her life, and so she had a weakness for extravagance. She watched the basin and the barrels and every crevice in the granite fill with water and overflow. She looked at the mattresses out being aired and the dishes that were washing themselves. She sighed contentedly and, absorbed in thought, she filled a coffee cup with precious drinking water and poured it over a daisy.
I just loved that moment!

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Re: The Summer Book

Post by Rebecca H. on Wed Feb 02, 2011 12:29 am

Yes, in some ways Sophia seems older than her age (which is what exactly? I'm not entirely sure) and the grandmother younger. That's a great passage, Stefanie!

Did you get the sense that the book takes place over the course of one summer, or is it anecdotes from several? I'm not sure that was entirely clear. She's so vague about time frames except for the occasional mention of a month.

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Re: The Summer Book

Post by iliana on Wed Feb 02, 2011 1:14 am

The grandmother was a wonderful character. I loved the first chapter when Sophia goes for a swim and the grandmother is very matter of fact in the way she believes that yes, Sophia can swim and dive. In that way she encourages her I think to just go for it. Let go of fears and give things a try.

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Re: The Summer Book

Post by Stefanie on Wed Feb 02, 2011 1:26 am

Dorothy, I found the timeframe of the book to be very vague and ended up thinking it took place over several summers. It seemed that sometimes Sophia was older and sometimes younger and while there was a definite sense of progressing from spring to the end of summer, it just didn't feel like it was one summer.

Iliana, yes! And Grandmother being very careful not to scare Sophia when she climbed the channel marker. That was a bit of a nail biting moment.

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Re: The Summer Book

Post by Litlove on Wed Feb 02, 2011 8:27 am

Just joining in the chorus here - I loved it, too. To begin with, I was afraid it would end up twee, but as it turned out, not at all. The relationship was so honest and transparent, and I really liked that.

But what about the father, people? Here we are, letting parental neglect completely off the hook - because it's a man? Now of course, we could say that grief is the root of the trouble. But given that this does seem to be a consolidation of summers rather than one linear narrative, are we to think this is just his natural character? Evidently, Jansson was interested in the relationship between the grandmother and Sophia, so she leaves the father to one side. But I'm just intrigued to hear what you all think on this topic. I have a sneaking suspicion that we forget the father happily, but that if it had been the mother who remained, we wouldn't feel so comfortable at all.

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Re: The Summer Book

Post by bookgazing on Wed Feb 02, 2011 10:34 pm

I liked it a lot too and must make a note to read more of her adult fiction.

The father reminds me of a more extreme version of Moomin Papa. He was a bit absent minded, always off inventing or doing something not practical instead of doing what the kids of Moomin Mama needed. Sophia's father is also kind of vague, but takes it to the extreme (he sets up a tent, which I guess means he lives apart from the other two for part of the time). Strangely the idea that his vagueness and distance might be caused by grief didn't really stick in my mind. Although I thought about it a little I generally just thought of him as off in his own world and the Sophia and her grandmother as much more grounded in reality, despite him being the one to try to 'civilise' the island. And you're right if it had been a woman I'd have noticed more, even if I wouldn't necessarily have had a problem with her vagueness (no kids of my own you see Wink I'd have kept it more at the front of my brain.

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Re: The Summer Book

Post by Rebecca H. on Wed Feb 02, 2011 11:41 pm

What DID the father work on? I got it in my head it was sculpture, but someone else said he's a writer -- does Jansson ever say? Litlove, I'm afraid you're right, that my lack of concern for what the father is doing is gendered. If it had been the mother who was that neglectful, it would have been harder to take. Jansson doesn't seem to invite us to criticize him at all; she just ignores him, and so it's easy for the reader to do that too. But perhaps not fair.

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Re: The Summer Book

Post by Rebecca H. on Thu Feb 03, 2011 12:20 am

One more thing -- Rohan Maitzen has agreed to choose our next book. Yay!

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Re: The Summer Book

Post by Stefanie on Thu Feb 03, 2011 12:27 am

I never got a sense of what the father's work was. He's such a vague character. It was sort of odd that he didn't play much of a role in the book, but I wrote it off to the book not being about him but about Sophia and Grandmother's relationship. If it was a mother instead of a father I don't think I would have been bothered by it so much either, coming to the same conclusion. The parent was present but had no real place to the story.

Looking forward to seeing Rohan's book choices!

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Re: The Summer Book

Post by Rohan on Thu Feb 03, 2011 1:41 am

Chiming in belatedly (I couldn't for the life of me remember the username and password I had chosen--too many sites, too many passwords!)--I too wondered about the father, even setting aside my discovered confusion about her mother, but now I think grief makes sense of a lot of his apparent distance. That, and perhaps being with her grandmother just is more important to Sophia on these island stays.

I quite feared for Grandmother's health, and I admire Jansson for not giving us a tear-jerker ending, though I felt at the end she was rather waiting for ... the end. But she (both Jansson and Grandmother, really) is so unsentimental. Not unemotional, just not about to sit around and mope, even if she's just had to lie down, or throw up.

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Re: The Summer Book

Post by Litlove on Thu Feb 03, 2011 9:20 am

Jodie - I love the idea that the father is Moomin Papa - that's a brilliant explanation. And really interesting as always to hear how others responded to that part of the story. I have no idea what the father was up to, Dorothy! But art of some kind, most probably.

And I know what you mean, Rohan, about fearing for the grandmother. I did so appreciate the interactions between her and Sophia at such times. When she's been ill and Sophia says 'I think I can spare you a little time today' (I'm not looking this quote up as I type so it may not be quite accurate but it's something like that), I thought how honest and real that was. It's a big concession from Sophia, to ease off her demands and be gentle and I found it much more touching than a sentimental outpouring would have been.

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Re: The Summer Book

Post by Rohan on Thu Feb 03, 2011 7:26 pm

I never read the Moomin books--now I'm quite curious about them! What age group would people say they are aimed at?

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Re: The Summer Book

Post by Rebecca H. on Thu Feb 03, 2011 7:29 pm

Count me in as someone who now wants to read the Moomin books! I'd never heard of them before beginning to read Janssen last month. I have a feeling American/Canadian? readers are missing out on something great.

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