The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson | translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal
Published by Sort of Books, 2009 (first published in 1982)
My rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Tove Jansson’s The True Deceiver is a deceptively simple tale that ruminates on the likes of art, community, love, and change. We follow two very different women who have both isolated themselves from society in their own ways. Katri is emotionally distant, but takes her role as guardian of her teenage brother very seriously. Anna is an artist, known for illustrating a popular series of children’s stories. The book opens with Katri vowing to initiate herself into Anna’s life – and home – by any means. It’s not a spoiler to say she makes this happen, but what ensues is a strangely understated game of cat and mouse, in which we are forced to ask who really holds the power, and who stands to gain the most from this unconventional arrangement.
The prose itself is simple, Jansson’s use of language proving very economical. That said, the Finnish landscape is evoked well, the gradual thaw from winter into spring reflective of the characters’ letting go of old habits, and their gentle opening up to new ways of thinking and living.
It’s the kind of book that provoked thought and made me feel engaged whenever I picked it up, but which left me feeling entirely apathetic by the time I reached its end. For a novel so driven by its imagery (it draws on several fairy tale motifs) and thematic ideas, I felt it lacked a certain punch, its promise of atmosphere and tension never quite reaching a fever pitch. Still, I would be open to trying more of the author’s work, and I would recommend this one to anyone intrigued by the notion of a quiet character study that explores the concept of justified lies, whilst asking us to consider which is worse: lying to others, or lying to ourselves.
If you’d live to give The True Deceiver a go, you can pick up a copy from Book Depository with free shipping by clicking here. If you’ve already read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts!