I haven’t read so many passages of a book aloud to D, ever. I haven’t ever hummed between wanting to finish so I could rush to recommend and review, and never wanting it to end.
This book warms the soul like a little pot of milk warms on an old black stove. It’s poignant and sharp-eyed and rueful and dryly funny. It’s a meditation on the inconveniences and loss experienced with aging, as well as the brash joyfulness found only in children. The characters are Sophia, a little girl, Grandmother, and Papa, who rarely strays away from his work. The setting is one island (sometimes others are visited in jaunts) in the Gulf of Finland, in Summer, in short headed chapters concerning variously unconnected, unyeared events. I would quote the whole book at you, if I wasn’t worried about the publishers getting annoyed with me. But just one passage?
Sophia is dictating a treatise on Angleworms to Grandmother, having recently cut one in half.
“Now don’t interrupt. It goes on like this: The worm probably knows that if it comes apart, both halves will start growing separately. Space. But we don’t know how much it hurts. And we don’t know, either, if the worm is afraid it’s going to hurt. But anyway, it does have a feeling that something sharp is getting closer and closer all the time. This is instinct. And I can tell you this much, it’s not fair to say it’s too little, or it only has a digestive canal, and so that’s why it doesn’t hurt. I am sure it does hurt, but maybe only for a second. […] When it had calmed its nerves, it could tell right away it was shorter, and then it saw the other half right beside it. Let me make this a little easier to understand by putting it this way: Both halves fell down on the ground, and the person with the hook went away. They couldn’t grow back together, because they were terribly upset, and then, of course, they didn’t stop to think, either. And they knew that by and by they’d grow out again, both of them. I think they looked at each other, and thought they looked awful, and then crawled away from each other as fast as they could. Then they started to think. They realised that from now on life would be quite different, but they didn’t know how, that is, in what way.”
The microcosm of life on an island. Hidden caves with grass-covered alters within. Venice made of wood carvings set in a bog. The various temperaments of the sea. Old, taciturn friendships opening up to reveal further depths. My praise keeps bumping up against the ceiling of my clunkiness in the writing of it.
I want to read it on the slab-rocked shore of a temperate island, in summer.
I want to read it with my legs dangling in brisk clear water with the sun high overhead.
This book is coming with me, wherever in the world I go.