The True Deceiver: Chilly Tale of Seeming Opposites in Frigid Finnish Town

The thing that I love about my book club is that we tend to read books I wouldn't ordinarily pick up. I would have dismissed Galore as archaic and instead I loved it best out of the group!

This month was Finnish author Tove Jansson's The True Deceiver (originally published in 1982), another unlikely hero. Jansson was an illustrator by training, her most famous creation being the Moomin family who, to my untrained eye, look like a bizarre collection of blobs. She also began to write novels for adults later in life, and died in 2001.

The True Deceiver is a psychological novel written without flourish. There are great passions, but they are of the mind; the body does not come into play. Katri lives above a store with her simple-minded brother Mats. She is extremely good at maths and unnervingly blunt. Her cunning in practical matters (such as land deals) is much used by the townspeople, even though they dislike her.

Katri has one objective - to live at the "rabbit house" up the hill that is currently occupied by Anna, an eccentric illustrator of children's picture books, and thus provide for Mats. Katri succeeds, but in taking over Anna's house and business she finds herself just as compromised by the process. 

The title is nicely indicative of the book's shifting definition of deception. Katri initially appears to be the deceiver - what with scheming to boot an old nice lady out of her house and all - yet she is upfront about her objectives. Anna appears to be the innocent - painting charming rabbits, writing sweet letters to her kiddie fans - and yet we're told that she's only known as "nice" since her benevolence has never been tested. She secretly detests writing back to children, she even detests painting bunnies; her charm is inherently false.

This is not a warm-and-fuzzies type of novel. In fact, it's sometimes just as icy as the frigid, isolated Finnish town it's set in. Its subtlety is fantasmo, though. One of our book clubbers commented that it's one of those texts that rewards even more on a second reading. And at a short and sweet 181 pages, this novel is re-readibility incarnate.

Reminded me a lot of Sinclair Ross' As for Me and My House, another B. Kienapple all-time fave.

The True Deceiver / Tove Jansson / New York Review Book / PB, 1982


Buried In Print said...

As For Me and My House is a favourite of mine as well: I'm intrigued by your comparison!

Melwyk said...

I loved this book! I am also intrigued by your comparison to As for Me and My House, since I hate that book so very intensely ;)

mynovelreviews said...

Intriguing review!

B.Kienapple said...

Buried in Print and Melwyk: a favourite and a most hated un-favourite, I'll leave you two to duke it out! Nah, I have to jump in. I can see why the hate; after all, AFMAMY is a very dark, depressing, insular little novel. TD isn't as heavy but it is insular and has the same unforgiving tone. I just LOVED the former when I first read it for my CanLit class at U of T. I felt like I was right back in my childhood bedroom listening to the unholy squall of a winter storm - a feeling to burrow inside or to suffocate you.


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