“The True Deceiver” by Tove Jansson

“The True Deceiver” by Tove Jansson (1982) – 181 pages     Translated by Thomas Teal

 I checked the list of Finnish writers in Wikipedia and found out that “The True Deceiver” is the first novel and Tove Jansson the first novelist from Finland I have read.

Tove Jansson was mainly a children’s book writer, famous for her MoominTroll fantasy series, until she took up writing novels for adults when she was in her sixties.   The short sentences in “The True Deceiver” have that simple clear quality of writing for children.  However it would be a mistake to consider this novel otherwise at all related to children’s fiction.  This is a menacing deep psychologically complex novel for adults.    The writing here is like a dark cold winter morning in a Finland village.

This story is about two women who come into conflict.  One of the women is Anna who is a best-selling children’s author.  She also paints the pictures which illustrate her books.  She has many drawings of the forest floor to which she always adds a lot of cute bunny rabbits which the little children especially adore.   The other woman, Katri, is a menacing figure with yellow eyes.  The people in the village say she doesn’t care about anything except numbers, her slow younger brother Mats, and her dog which also has yellow eyes.

    “Her (Katri’s) perpetual distrust, so easily roused, could cause her eyes to open in a sudden straight stare, and in a certain light they were actually yellow and made people very uneasy.”

 Katri, uninvited, insinuates herself into Anna’s house and life.  Soon she is doing the bookkeeping for Anna who, being the artistic type, is hopeless about finances.  Katri points out how Anna is being cheated by the woman who cleans her house, the storekeeper, and her publishing company.  Soon Katri stages a fake break-in of Anna’s house which opens the door for Katri and Mats to move in.

 So far this novel seems like a simple battle between good and evil, but we are just getting started.  Remember that even though Anna the artist has next to no interest in money she has a goodly amount of it through her books, while the coldly practical Katri has no money saved up.  Also remember that Katri is strictly honest in her accounting.  At this point we still do not know who the true deceiver is.  The simple language and dramatic events give this story the power of a mysterious allegory.  Even after completing the book, I still have unanswered questions about what is going on between these two women, and that is a good thing.

“The True Deceiver”  is very easy to read, and you will think about this story for a long time after finishing it.  This book is highly recommended by me.

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6 responses to this post.

  1. I love Tove’s work and have read this one – I though it was a fine novel indeed.

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  2. Hi Tom C,
    Yes, indeed fine. I want to read “The Summer Book” soon.

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  3. I grew up reading the Finn Family Moomintroll books and have very fond memories of them.

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    • Hi Kimbofo,
      I wasn’t familiar with the Moomintroll books. When my kids were little, we read Madeliene, “Make Way for Ducklings”, Curious George, etc.

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  4. I’ve read The Summer Book and quite liked it. It was strange and very different from most novels I read and I enjoyed Jansson’s clean writing style. I’m very much looking forward to reading True Deceiver as soon as I get a hold of it.

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  5. HI Biblibio,
    Yes, ‘The Summer Book’ looks like a must-read after ‘The True Believer’. The only other children’s book writer who also wrote adult books that I can remember now is Ruth Park who is also excellent. The writing of children’s books seems to allow the writer to write their stories with a clear uncluttered style.

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