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Thank you for your interest. Geoff & Diane.

Call 01654 700559

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3 Heol Pen'Rallt
Machynlleth, SY20 8AG

(01654) 700559

We're an independent gallery bookshop based in Machynlleth, mid Wales. It's our blend of bookshop, selling a carefully selected collection of reads and pick-up-and-flick-through books – and gallery space to inspire you while you're browsing. We host events too, book readings, author talks, photography and art openings. 

Reviews

The Summer Book - by Tove Jansson

Geoff Young

The Summer Book

Most days in the bookshop someone will pick up a book and ask me if I've read it, at which point my immediate instinct is that I should have done, whichever book it is. After all, I work in a bookshop. I usually haven't read it (which is actually fair enough), but I get very excited on the rare occasions I have, even it's just another book by the same author. Mostly I read The London Review of Books (to the cognoscenti, the LRB), which we don't stock (maybe we should) and squeeze in the occasional book, quite possibly by Graham Greene. I once told a customer I'd read eleven in a row, which I had and she said, oh, I haven't read that one. Or I read something a bit obscure that I came across while out book hunting, currently a book from 1968 on Jack Ruby, which has, I can guarantee, the most badly written (modern) introduction, possibly translated from Japanese, that it would be possible to find.

One evening recently, in between books, I picked up The Summer Book by Tove Jansson. We sell more books by her than by any other author. Easily. Not surprisingly she was awarded The Order of the Smile in 1975. The Summer Book was first published in 1974. I'm about half way through and it seems a good idea to review it, with summer on it's way. This is my first book review ever but as an LRB reader I should know how to do it. A bit like watching the Olympics and so being able to swim, which I can't.

A lot of us would like to live on an island - maybe not this one at the moment and maybe a bit smaller and somewhere else, ie still in Europe and not planning to leave. We might also like the idea of building a house on that small island and spending a summer there, particularly as either a child or as a grandparent, spending time together. The Summer Book is that. The girl wants to be grown up and the grandmother wants to be young again, so they cross over, only the grandmother feels her responsibility as an adult and the child wants to be looked after too.

One reason, possibly the main reason, people want to travel is to be part of a different way of life, if only temporarily. To experience a different landscape, to hear different voices, different opinions and ideas. What is taken for granted in one place might not be in another. It is easy to go through life unconsciously thinking: this is what it's like everywhere, this is what people believe. But they don't and that's exciting. (And the trouble is we're exiting. Unless something dramatic happens, we're really about to go it alone, based on a belief that we're right and they're wrong).

For the duration of the book Tove Jansson's island has just the two people on it. They live their lives in a way that values where they are and blends with their surroundings. The days pass, like childhood days do. Small adventures take place, but nobody gets hurt. Not all that much happens, just life and growing older and the grandmother and the grandchild learn from each other, their differences highlighted and yet made light of.

There is a second island within view, recently and shockingly built on and inhabited by strangers, who are scorned by grandmother and grandchild in advance for their ignorance. But when they meet them they are slightly disappointed to discover that the man and the boy are actually ok after all. But their privacy has been shattered forever and they will need to adjust. Later in the year, as always, the island will become inhabitable due to the extreme cold and they prepare it and the house and the sort of garden they look after for that. They know what lies ahead, because it always does.

I finished the book some time ago and have predictably returned to Graham Greene and forgotten most of what happened. It's that kind of book. You experience it as you go, like being on holiday and then you return home and can't remember much. You just have a feeling that your life was different for a while, better.

 

Geoff Young is a joint owner of Penrallt Gallery Bookshop in Machynlleth and a photographer who occasionally writes.