So Scandi: In praise of “Summer” by Karl Ove Knausgård

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Short trousers, redcurrants, summer rain, campsites, tears, electric hand mixers, intelligence, ice cubes, skin and plums. These are some of the objects and phenomena that Norwegian author, Karl Ove Knausgård describes in his book, Summer.

Summer is a celebration of the season and an ode to the everyday, the third book in a four-part series – one for each season. In Autumn, Knausgård describes the world to his unborn child. In Spring, he chronicles a single day with his newborn daughter in minute detail. And in Summer, he punctuates a meandering account of a summer with both illustrations by Anselm Kiefer and whimsical descriptions of objects and phenomena.

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I bought my own copy of this book in The English Bookshop in Stockholm – an appropriately honey-yellow hardback with smooth pages and beautifully printed illustrations. The book was to become a companion to my own summer. Three of my favourite entries were on redcurrants, ice cubes and plums.

In June, I opened this small box of summer on a footpath overlooking Stockholm. Knausgård’s description of redcurrants with “their shiny translucent skin, which sparklingly reflects the sunlight and at times makes the berries look like glass pearls” evoked memories of discovering threads of redcurrants hidden beneath a bush’s dark foliage in my childhood garden.

In July, sand got caught between the pages as I lay on one of Copenhagen’s city beaches reading the entry on ice cubes. Knausgård remarks on the way “ice cubes produce a rustling or clinking sound when the glass they are floating around is moved” and how “for many this is one of the most distinctive and joyful noises … the very essence of summer”.

In August, Knausgård describesthe taste of plums: “sweet in a dark and heavy, almost earthbound way”. Laying in my bedroom on a cool night in rural England, the night breeze coming through my window, I read how “just as the darkness begins to thicken at night, towards the end of July and the beginning of August … the plums begin to ripen. The sweet juicy taste therefore always has a hint of melancholy about it, ‘summer is over for now’.”

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While some of the entries are characteristically Scandinavian, all the accounts contain something of the universal. Knausgård’s entry on ‘Ice Cream’ resonates with anyone who has ever been faced with a huge range of ice cream flavours to choose from, “which is a difficult decision in and of itself, not least because the choice must at times be made within a fraction of a second”. Similarly, anyone can identify with walking through a residential area on a sunny afternoon in summer and smelling and hearing… “a smell of grilled food coming from one or several places. The smell and accompanying sounds, the chink of cutlery, shouts or conversation”, which he describes in his entry on ‘Barbecues’.

Knausgård’s prose is a dance between the mundane and the profound, as when he writes of the melancholy and ominosity of plums – of how they represent the end of summer and with that, all of our hopes and expectations for it. “It didn’t turn out the way you thought it would, says the taste of the plum, and now it’s too late”. And yet, this melancholy at the end of summer also contains “the thought of soon returning to regular life with its limitations and routines, autumn and winter”.

One could argue that one of literature’s most vital tasks is to awaken us to the things around us that we may not at first notice. This is a book that does exactly that. Summer will help you to see the magic contained within the everyday and enjoy summer to the fullest. If I could add anything to Knausgård’s list, it would have to be ‘Summer Reading’ – what would be on yours?

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_468cReading Summer overlooking Stockholm.

–  Rebecca Appleton

Featured Image Source

All other images are Rebecca’s own.

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