I came to this book with misgivings. It was a choice for our book club, and I approached it thinking it would be another load or portentous cliches a la Paolo Cuelo, or as twee as AA Milne's poems (Dorothy Parker verdict: Tonstant Weader Fwowed Up).
How wrong I was. This is an instant classic, a book you will return to over and over, and anyone who can't see that is not reading with their brain. it's a deceptively simple series of incidents on a tiny island over a summer between Grandmother and Granddaughter Sophia. There is a father, a strong presence who never says anything except when it is time to leave. Some strangers intrude from time to time, loud and weird, but the two close ranks against them. Mostly they potter around, while the grandmother gives the best example of parenting I know in literature.
There are many strengths to the book. Firstly, it has that kind of fascination with minutiae which can have you looking into a rock pool for hours. Remember as a kid how on long summer holidays you could lose yourself for days just mooching or making something stupid? (I remember I spent two months tunnelling to Australia when I was eight.) "The Summer Book" really captures that.
It also captures an essential Finno-Swedish quality. Scandinavia is full of grannies like this one - feisty, practical old women full of love but also self-contained. And all Swedes have a wooden hut somewhere miles from anywhere they disappear to for the summer. Read this book and you'll never need to visit the Gulf of Finland.
This is allied to a real feeling for countryside and ecology, written in 1972 way before ecology was fashionable. The descriptions are those of someone who has got down and dirty in the earth, not someone who's seen pretty pictures from their drawing-room window.
And though this is an evocation of childhood tinged with regret and nostalgia, it is not remotely sentimental. In fact it is quite hard. It can encompass storms, shipwrecks and scavenging; a laboriously-built toy village gets washed away in minutes. Childhood terrors are terrifying, and there is a real presence of death. Indeed the whole book ends in death.
The relationship between the generations is subtle, understated and also very funny. We see it from both points of view, changing from paragraph to paragraph. It is never patronising, and the reader isn't patronised either. Tove Janssen seems to be saying, "There may be a moral here for you, but you'll have to work it out for yourself, and anyway you can take it or leave it."
If like me you regard the closing chapter of "The House at Pooh Corner" as one of the high points of literature about childhood, don't hesitate - buy this book.