The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson
Translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal
New York Review Books, New York, 2009
Borrowed from the library.
I’m sure many are familiar with the Moomins, that wonderful Finnish family of hippo-like Trolls. Tove Jansson, their creator, also wrote short stories and novels for adults.
The True Deceiver is a complex portrait of relationship, truth and deception. It takes place during winter in a small Finnish village.
It had been snowing along the coast for a month. As far back as anyone could remember, there hadn’t been this much snow, this steady snow piling up against doors and windows and weighing down roofs and never stopping even for an hour. From page 5.
Katri lives with her brother Mats, and is considered odd, something of an outcast, by the villagers. Anna, a children’s book illustrator, is admired and respected by all. These two form a connection and Katri and Mats eventually move into Anna’s house. The small town backbiting and gossip begins. What does Katri want? What can Anna be thinking? Is Katri taking over her life?
Anna lay in her bed and stared at the ceiling. There was a little wreath of plaster roses around the light fixture on the ceiling, repeated in a long ribbon around the bedroom. She listened. Heavy objects were being dragged around upstairs and then dropped with a thud. Steps came and went and the silences that strained her hearing to the utmost. Now, again, something being dragged and dropped, everything up there changing places; all the past which had rested above Anna Aemelin’s bedroom as distant and undisturbed as the innocent dome of heaven, was in a state of violent transformation. From page 76.
Jansson weaves a mysterious, dark tale written in beautiful stark language. Thomas Teal has done a masterful job of translating and the book conveys the icy cold of winter and the icy cold of distrust and deception. I have read some of Jansson’s stories and this novel surprised me, it has great tension and depth. This NYRB edition has a wonderful introduction by Ali Smith.
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