Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book tells of people on a tiny island off Finland, living together with tact, grace and delightful attention to their surroundings
In 1972, Tove Jansson, creator of the Moomin characters, wrote her classic of island life, The Summer Book. The Jansson family, who were Swedish-speaking Finns, spent their summers on a tiny island in the Gulf of Finland, and the book describes this beloved place. Later in life Tove would move even further out to sea, spending more than 30 summers with partner Tuulikki Pietilä in a cabin on a remote, treeless islet called Klovharun.
The Jansson family’s island could be circumnavigated in four-and-a-half minutes. Island life was tough: food had to be brought by boat from the mainland, storms could prove dangerous, and the only link to the outside world was a radio. Practicality and self-sufficiency were vital, as was a sense of community; entertainment had to be created for oneself. Yet for Tove, this potentially claustrophobic world was endlessly stimulating. Reading The Summer Book 15 years ago I was struck by the way the island felt like my childhood house and garden: a vast world, full of imaginative potential. Rereading it now, in lockdown, the book feels like a survival guide.