The True Deceiver

I have no idea how I ended up with Tove Jansson’s The True Deceiver in my book bag.  (Tove Jansson is the author of the Moomintroll series, which is wonderful also, but in a different way.) Did I see it on one of those “other people bought this” recommendations on Amazon?  Did a blogger mention it?  Was it face up on a bookstore table?  Where do our books come from, anyway?    But if I get into THAT then I will not write about THIS, which is, right now, more interesting,

The True Deceiver is a simple story, set in a village in Scandinavia during the winter.  The writing is beautifully spare, psychologically astute and the story it tells is an utterly unique one, or at least it was to me.  The story is driven by the desire of Katri, a  woman the village children call a witch because she has yellow eyes and a wolf-like dog, to find a home for her brother who seems to be “simple” but might just be quiet.  Katri, who is a business-like, straightforward, truth teller,  focuses on Anna, an innocent-seeming, older woman who is the author of children’s books which feature meticulous drawings of the forest floor in the spring and rabbits covered in flowers.  The two women could not be more different and it is inevitable that when Katri comes into Anna’s home and uses truth as a kind of deceit neither of them will be the same when the snow melts.

The book is about honesty and artifice and what happens to us when we encounter and engage in them.  Jansson has a remarkable eye and ear for human behavior and a true compassion for her characters.  She began writing for adults when she was in her 50s, and I wonder how much that has to do with the beauty of her work.  It’s as though she’s figured out just how much she needs to say and no more.  Like Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, True Deceiver is a meticulously crafted novel that carefully charts the relationships among an isolated group of characters.  I’d put it in the literary fiction category of my summer reading, although it’s so transcendent that I wonder if maybe we should invent another category for it.

Let’s see, points totals:  Nobody recommended this, not as far as I could tell, so not points there.  I did not check it out from the library (which makes me think I bought it at a bookstore.  Or stole it, since I can’t remember where it came from — a little bit like Katri, actually.)  Definitely  no points there.  But I did write it down and write about it and I snuck in Housekeeping in case you’re wondering what other beautiful book it reminds me of.  30 BlogLily Summer Reading Program Points.  (But then I don’t get the boomerang — or other prize —  because I’m pretty sure that’s totally not allowed.)

14 thoughts on “The True Deceiver

  1. Well, your review has intrigued me. I’ve put it in my amazon cart. I just finished writing my draft, so I have a few months of reading novels ahead of me before I start my next one, and The True Deceiver is on the list. The list, however, is long, so I can’t guarantee I’ll read it, but I think it’s likely. A book with two female main characters always has a good shot with me.

  2. When you write that “Jansson has a remarkable eye and ear for human behavior and a true compassion for her characters,” you naill the essence of her work, be it for children (supposedly) or adults. I think that Tales from Moominvalley is one of the most important books ever written. In short portraits, Jansson tells tales that are surgically precise psychologically and draws unusual characters, just as the ones you tell us are in this book. A Comet in Moominvalley still makes my breathe stop and my chest constrict with anxiety after all these years, so on target is her portrayal of emotion, desire and fear. I have carried my collection of Moomin books with me since childhood, and even took my Tales with me while touring as a troubadour in Europe (despite the fact that it is a hardback copy and a first edition….I wrapped it in plastic.)

    I have been to Finland numerous times and I have come to know some Finnish people as friends. Finns are interesting in many ways, not the least of which is that they can drink any human on earth under the table, which is likely how they survived as a nation despite being overrun by the Russians on several occasions. The thing about Finns in winter. They live in a lot of winter. And when spring comes, everything comes up rapidly. I think they feel this way too: With a lot of winter brooding and stunning moments when things just reveal with unusual fluidity and speed.

    It always surprises me that more people aren’t aware of Jansson, or of Finnish art in general. There is a great deal more to Finland than Marimekko. Or even Moomins. They are worth getting to know.

    I have you to thank for pointing out this book. I did not know about it, and I will seek it out.

  3. A great review! I have this book on my shelf, but not read it yet. Now I will! I love her Moomins stories, my favorite is Moominvalley in November, which has such a beautiful melancholic tone.

    What you say about Jansson’s writing for adults is very interesting, and so is the connection you make to Robinson. There is something here about the art of mature women, and the importance of ordinary life experience that I feel very liberating and promising – .

  4. As part of the Slaves, I read The Summer Book by Tove Jansson and was surprised how much I liked it (when it began I wasn’t sure I would, but it won me over completely). I’ve been meaning to read more of her adult work. Naturally, I loved the Moomins. What was the name of that dark, hairy thing that slid around on the periphery of the action? Gosh I wish I had my memory still. Anyway, that thing always made me shiver inside. And on a different note, I’ve come to think that economy in expression is one of the great writerly qualities. I don’t have it myself, but I really admire writers who do.

  5. ohhh i do hope that i’ll someday write a novel and that you’ll review it! so that everybody will want to run out and get (from the library!?!) it and read it right away, as this post makes me want to do.

    ohhhh i do hope that soon we’ll see you review YOUR book here….(grin)

  6. Gail — I would love to review anything you write. I really liked that excerpt you read at my house (was it really last year?) Also, I think it would be fun to review my own book. I sometimes tell my kids that it’s a B+ book, but I’m starting to think, after all these revisions, it might even be approaching an A-. I’m a pretty easy grader, of course.

    Litlove, After hearing you and Dodie talk about the moomins I realize that my husband is the one who read them to the boys, not me. Which means I will have to find them and read them to William before he gets too old. Of course, it’s quite clear that one never gets too old for that.

    Hello and welcome Sigrun! Yes, I too think that art created by women of a certain age is very interesting. And I hope you like the True Deceiver as much as I did.

    D — I had no idea that you had this love of the Moomins. Nor did I know you spent time in Finland, which sounds so beautiful. Can all nordic peoples drink everyone else under the table? It seems so to me. I also like it so much that you wrapped the book in plastic and brought it with you. That sounds very wise to me. As I said to litlove, I am looking forward to reading the Moomin books to William, if he will let me.

    Yay Sonje!! I’m very glad you’re finished with your draft. Congratulations and how nice that you get to read now. If you read this one, let me know what you think. (And if you haven’t read housekeeping, which also features two women main characters, you should.)

  7. I saw one movie at the Provincetown International Film Festival this year and it happened to be a documentary from Finland. No hint of winter in it that I can recall. I forget the title but it was about some fellows at Nokia (which they hated) who were members of an amateur rugby team. Worth a watch. Made the country seem like Washington State, or Maine, say.

  8. I read her The summer book and enjoyed it but I wasn’t inspired to try anything else by her. This does sound lovely though and I think I will have to read it. The clencher was that you said it reminded you of Housekeeping.

  9. Tove Jansson! There are four Moomin mugs in our cupboard. From where I’m sitting, I can see the five beautiful cloth bound spines of the recently issued collections of her London Evening Standard comic strip from the 50s and early sixties. She’s an utter heroine of mine and criminally undervalued as a writer of great subtlety, humanity, intelligence and wit.

  10. I remember when the “Slaves” all read The Summer Book and made me want to read her. Now you’ve made me want to read her even more. I must see if our library has anything.

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