It’s time for another round of “What has Lea been reading these last few months, which has prevented her from finding time to write something on the blog”. Joke aside, I have been reading some fantastic books this summer and I have liked them more than many other books I have read this year.
So with no further ado, here are the books that have taken up my time and captured my heart lately.
The Summer Book – Tove Jansson
For some reason I had never come across Tove Janssons fiction writing for adults before I started hearing about it here in England. I think it’s weird that even as a literature student in Denmark I never heard about her work outside The Moomins and after reading The Summer Book I think her writing deserves a much bigger place in our literary history.
The novel has been inspired by Jansson’s family and her memories of the times they spent on their small island in the Gulf of Finland, particularly of her niece Sophie and her mother who died shortly before she wrote it. It’s been written in a deceptively easy and simple language that I really liked, maybe because it feels typical of the kind of Scandinavian writing I’m familiar with but also because there was so much underlying humour in it. I loved the tenderness, the playfulness and the dignity she portrays in the relationship between Sophia and her grandmother, and her descriptions of how they act together in the landscape around them.
I really felt a connection with the book and the way it writes about something remembered, especially because it doesn’t feel like a romanticised kind of nostalgia but a kind that has more to do with appreciating and preserving the memory of people and places that have once been loved. That’s definitely something I can relate to.
The Woolgrover’s Companion – Joy Rhoades*
I don’t really know what I expected from this book but the one thing I definitely wasn’t expecting was how much I would end up caring about it. From the description it sounded like your typical wartime romance, the kind that’s sweet and sad and perhaps doesn’t offend any sensibilities or leave much of an impression but I honestly think the book is so much better than the description lets on.
I wasn’t expecting how involved and interested I became in hearing about Kate’s life, the people around her and the daily challenges of running her family’s wool farm. It wasn’t just the love story between Kate and Luca that became important to me either but the relationship between all the characters. It didn’t shy away from depicting the truth about how certain people were treated in Australia around that time, especially the injustice that was done to Aboriginal Australians and their children but also to prisoner of war labourers and women, and maybe that’s why I ended up caring so much. Or maybe it’s because Rhoades have written these characters into being in a way that I have found is increasingly rare.
It’s been about a month since I finished it but I still think about it and I sometimes find myself wondering what might have happened to Kate and Daisy after the book finished.
The Hare With Amber Eyes – Edmund De Waal
I discovered this book on one of our tables in the bookshop one day and as I couldn’t stop thinking about it, I decided to get it. I hadn’t heard of Edmund De Waal before and didn’t know he was a renowned ceramist here in the UK before he became a prize-winning writer because of the book.
The book tells the story of how De Waal came to inherit a collection of Japanese netsuke figures from his uncle and if you are a regular reader, you probably already know that I have a fascination with Japan, so I was really excited to read it. It’s hard to describe the book and what is so captivating about it because it’s so many things at the same time: a memoir, a travelogue, an ancestral research project and a sweeping history of 19th and 20th century art, literature and culture. But it’s all been weaved effortlessly together, I think.
What I loved so much about it besides from the mindblowingly good writing, was how I felt like I was going on a journey with De Waal from Paris, to Vienna, England, Odessa, Tokyo and then finally, back to England again. I got fascinated by the history of De Waal’s netsuke but I also got caught up in the story of his family, a story which unexpectedly broke my heart halfway through. It’s such a beautiful story and I dare anyone to read the chapters about their housekeeper Anna in Vienna during WW2 without crying over her bravery.
The Lost Letters of William Woolf – Helen Cullen
From the very beginning I was intrigued by the mystery this book seemed to promise. Despite not reading a lot of crime fiction I do like a good mystery and it’s become something I have started to look for in books. It sounded like a cute and lighthearted read and I was kind of expecting it to follow a typically predictable love story pattern: guy falls in love with mysterious woman – guy goes on an adventure to trace her down – woman falls in love with guy – and they live happily ever after, all their problems now solved. But every time I thought I had figured the book or the mystery out it skillfully proved me wrong.
For some reason it took me a few chapters before I realised it was set in the 80s and my boyfriend can attest to the fact that I don’t normally do 80s but I think it really suited the story. The whole book is filled with physical and analog things like letters, phoneboxes, parcels, film photographs and tapes, clothes, record players and vinyls, and not only did it feel like it was written with a reader like me in mind but it also felt like going on a holiday from the heavily digitalised reality we live in now. I kind of wish I could have just continued to live in that book.
Despite all the heartache and abandoned dreams it deals with and even though it never gloss over how difficult relationships can be or how, ultimately, most of us will end up having to make compromises with the kind of life we thought or dreamed we would have, it was a comforting, cosy thing to read. If I dare say it, it was almost a romantic book, if romantic in a sort of realistic way.
*This book was kindly sent to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.