Tove Jansson – The True Deceiver

‘The True Deceiver’ was first published in 1982 in Swedish. I’ve read the English translation by Thomas Teal. For me, this was actually a re-read. I first read this book about a year ago, in January 2010. The fact that I wanted to re-read so soon, should tell you how much I was impressed by this book.

Tove Jansson was a Finnish artist and novelist, who nowadays is mostly known for her Moomin books. I have never read any of those, so I can only give my impressions of this particular one of her novels written for adults. One of the things I love most about ‘The True Deceiver’ is its setting. It is set during winter and spring in a small village on the Nordic coast that has been snowed in. Tove Jansson very skillfully creates the perfect environment and mood for her story, for example in this first announcement of spring

‘The first spring storm swept in from the sea, a strong warm wind. The snow was already heavy and fragile, and in the stormy forest great clumps of snow fell from the branches, and many branches broke in the moment of their liberation.’

The story that unfolds itself is that of Katri Kling and Anna Aemelin. Katri is a young woman who has raised her younger brother and is so brutally upfront and honest that the villagers are frightened by her. Anna Aemelin appears to be her opposite. An elderly artist and illustrator of children’s books, Aemelin lives alone in a large villa and appears to be very immature.

As the title already indicates, deceit and motives behind actions play an important role in ‘The True Deceiver’. Or, as Katri says it

‘ “Miss Aemelin, the things people do for one another mean very little, seen purely as acts. What matters is their motives, where they’re headed, what they want.” ’

Gradually, we find out what Katri’s motives are and both Katri and Anna Aemelin find out that they may have to challenge their own ideas and perceptions.

The reason why I wanted to re-read this book so soon, is that although the storyline is not very complex, there is so much in it that I was not able to grasp the first time. And I expect I will want to re-read again in the future. There are so many aspects that one can pay attention to when reading this novel. This time I mostly paid attention to the theme of deceit and motives behind actions, but I want to pay more attention to the way Jansson creates the atmosphere and to find out about what role the cast of villager’s have exactly. To me this is the essence of a good novel, being able to re-read again and again and still discover new elements and fresh ideas.

Here are some other sections that stood out to me, for my own reference:

‘But you never know, you can never really be sure, never completely certain that you haven’t tried to ingratiate yourself in some hateful way – flattery, empty adjectives, the whole sloppy, disgusting machinery that people engage in with impunity all the time everywhere to help them get what they want; ’

‘And politeness can sometimes be almost a kind of deceit, can it not?’

‘Katri turned around. “Obey?” she said. “You don’t know the meaning of the word. It means believing in a person and following orders that are consistent, and it’s a relief, it means freedom from responsibility.’

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