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The True Deceiver (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – December 8, 2009

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Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 181 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics; Original edition (December 8, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590173295
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590173299
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #89,831 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Originally published in 1982, this novel by Finnish writer Jansson (1914–2001) examines desire and deception among residents of a remote snowbound village. Known as the witch by the local children (and equally unpopular with their parents), black-haired, brutally honest Katri Kling cares only about her younger brother, Mats, whom the villagers consider slow. She keeps her distance from everyone else, aided by her unnamed German shepherd and her rejection of small talk. Meanwhile, Anna Aemelin, a reclusive and well-to-do children's book artist, occupies the largest house in the village—the town's only semblance of aristocracy—painting watercolors of flower-furred rabbits and reading adventure stories. In the hope of securing a future for Mats, Katri slowly but deliberately insinuates herself into Anna's solitary life, moving in before long and rousing the suspicion and jealousy of the townspeople. The strident battle of wills that ensues makes for an intimate portrait of two disparate outsiders; Jansson's keen insight into her characters' inner worlds will keep readers rooting for a proverbial (and literal) thaw. (Dec.)
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“A perfectly constructed book about truth and deceit, and deceiving through truth, it’s obvious why this book won the Best Translated Book Award in 2011. And it’s the perfect accompaniment to reading all of Jansson’s Moomin books.” —Publishers Weekly

" Her description is unhurried, accurate and vivid, an artist's vision... The sentences are beautiful in structure, movement and cadence. They have inevitable rightness. And this is a translation! Thomas Teal deserves to have his name on the title page with Jansson's: he has worked the true translator's miracle....the most beautiful and satisfying novel I have read this year. "  —Ursula K. Le Guin, The Guardian


"...a dark companion to her glowing The Summer Book.  Here the setting is winter, and the almost Highsmithian subject concerns a woman who inveigles herself in the life of a famous, and rich, writer. Jansson's writing is, as always, understated yet acute and thrilling."  — Los Angeles Times


"...Jansson crafts an unsentimental – often mischievous – novel of ideas that asks whether it is better to be kind than to be truthful, especially for an artist. Ali Smith’s excellent introduction expresses shock and delight that there is still fiction by Jansson untranslated into English. After reading this gem, who could disagree?" —Financial Times


"I loved this book...understated yet exciting, and with a tension that keeps you reading. I felt transported to that remote region of Sweden and when I finished it I read it all over again. The characters still haunt me." — Ruth Rendell


"Tove Janssen is a great, engaging talent -- a serious, complex, occasionally macabre novelist as well as a major and versatile painter who has worked for fifty years in the artistic mainstream. In Scandinavia, she is regarded as a treasure. As we come better to understand her achievement, we honor her likewise" — The HornBook


" this narrative ticks forward, it becomes evident that a book of almost inscrutable intricacy is being built from so many simple, separate components gradually enmeshing. "

--Theodore McDermott, The Believer

More About the Author

Tove Jansson (1914-2001) was born in Helsinki, and was an illustrator and political cartoonist for the left-leaning, anti-Fascist magazine Garm. She created a long-running comic strip and a series of children's books featuring the much-loved hippopotamus-like character, Moomintroll. She is also the author of eleven novels and short-story collections for adults, including The Summer Book and The True Deceiver. In 1994, she was awarded the Prize of the Swedish Academy.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Barbara Farrelly on February 15, 2010
Format: Paperback
This is the great Finnish writer Tove Jansson at the height of her powers in a haunting novel which invites comparisons with Australia's Elizabeth Jolley.
Being able to read Jansson's work in English is like "discovering buried treasure", according to the introduction to the novel by Ali Smith. And while I agree, I suggest you read this after you've finished the story, not before. It's a spoiler.
Two outcasts in a blue-eyed, snow covered world are yellow-eyed Katri Kling and her slow lumbering brother Mat who live in a single room above a shop with a fierce dog Katri doesn't bother to name.
The wolfish Katri sets her sights on wealthy old Anna Aemelin, a children's book illustrator who lives alone in a mansion. Anna paints the forest floor and fills her exquisite illustrations with flowery rabbits. And so the wolf and the bunny begin a dance over the long dark winter months, so skillfully evoked by this master storyteller.
Anna is careless about money; Katri a penny-pincher who contrives for herself and her brother to live with the artist and create a dependency. Clever Katri soon shows arty Anna how everyone is cheating her. But honesty without compassion is indeed brutality.
"For the first time in her life, Anna became distrustful. She went around brooding about all of them - neighbours, publishers, innocent little children."
Anna loses her treasured peace of mind and her child-like trust. She can no longer find creative inspiration instead she sees betrayal everywhere, even in the letters of her once cherished parents.
Katri takes Anna's old furniture and leaves it in a huge pile on the snow, waiting for the spring melt to claim it. It sits there like a menace in the woods.
But who is lying to whom? And does the ends justify the means?
This is a perfect book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By John Sollami on January 24, 2011
Format: Paperback
Months of snow, endlessly falling, piling up, being shoveled, falling again. A cover over everything and a symbolic blanket over all the people in the village whose true feelings lie buried beneath its icy threads. Only one villager seems to remain true to her inner self: Katri Kling. She has yellow eyes and keeps company with a silent wolfish dog who stays at her side and obeys only her. Her one soft spot is her love of her innocent slow-witted little brother Mats. She wants to give him something grand but needs money. Coolly calculating, Katri focuses on the rich lady artist living alone deep in the woods, in the rabbit house, Anna. Katri moves in, literally and figuratively. She uses her cold, brilliant mind to show Anna all the ugliness in people, and therein lies the struggle in this short, precisely written novel. Heavily laden with symbols and double meanings, this novel is a fine piece of literature, thought provoking, and well worth the brief time it takes to read. Highly recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Ken C. TOP 1000 REVIEWER on November 24, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you're a fan of psychological studies, you owe THE TRUE DECEIVER a look. Set in Sweden in the first half of the 20th century, the book offers a battle of wills that you don't even realize is happening at times, it's so subtle. Katri Kling becomes a care-taker for the famous children's book illustrator, Anna Aemilin, and it sets the small-town tongues wagging. "They make an odd couple, after all, so what's afoot?" seems to be the question of the moment.

Katri is logical to a fault and has little patience for the "games people play." She plays ice to emotional Anna's fire. In fact, not only is Anna well-versed in the games people play, she has practically written her own game. Throw into this face-off two wildcards: Katri's "simple-minded" brother, Mats, and her dog with no-name (which Anna initially fears and then wins over) and you have the cast for a mimimalist drama set against a relentless background of snow, ice, and winter.

Spring does come, however, and it plays a decided role in the denouement. When you reach it, you'll wonder how Tove Jansson pulls it off. It sure SEEMS like not much is happening -- and yet, all along, something is. A metaphorical chess match, in fact, one you have to sit back and admire because it could have come across as so melodramatic and treacly in the wrong hands. Best of all? The matter of who the "true deceiver" is remains subject to debate, even after the end. I love books like that, because they leave you thinking, engaging in your own internal debates. Good literature -- even smaller examples like this -- should do just that, no?
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Rick Skwiot on June 24, 2010
Format: Paperback
I found Jansson's The True Deceiver, penned ten years after her charming "The Summer Book," haunting and thought-provoking, its measured pace working to lure the reader into darker and deeper psychological realms.

It delves into the stunted psyches of a small, snowbound costal town. In Spartan prose she weaves the tale of the increasingly entwined lives of two women at opposite ends of the town's social scale, bringing into question the "truth" of their separate existences.

For me it raised fundamental questions: Which of our deceptions--including self-deceptions--are pragmatic and beneficent and which dysfunctional? Is the artist's "vision" a useful self-deception, a prism that makes things clearer albeit still distorted? Is kindness often a deception? What is the proper balance between truth and deception?

Jansson's taut prose, sharp characterizations and telling images work to expose the deceptions of the whole village in this compact and compelling novel. It is as dark and cold as "The Summer Book" is warm and comforting.
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