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

4.3 out of 5 stars 30 customer reviews

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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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“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


"...as 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


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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: 5 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #145,117 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Isn't interesting how small books can pack as much punch and cause as much "trouble" or provocation any mega book that aspires to that?

Tove Jansson's "The True Deceiver" puts us physically and psychologically into the minds and bodies of villagers in Scandanavia during a typically bleak winter. She brings us into all the small minded ambitions, misunderstandings and presumptions and judgements that preoccupy the main characters and their neighbors. She writes with sparing use of adjectives, relying on the relentless themes of winter, darkness, objectivity and it's counter part; self deception.

"The True Deceiver" is often said to be the dark rejoinder to "The Summer Book". I think that's right. In "The Summer Book" a wonderful grandmother treats her granddaughter with love and respect while introducing her to art and nature. Here we have the elderly children's illustrator Anna Amelin. I loved Janssen description that expose Anna perhaps more detached that friendly.

"PERHAPS THE REASON PEOPLE called Anna Aemelin nice was because nothing had ever forced her to exhibit malice, and because she had an uncommon ability to forget unpleasant things"

In one quick snapshot doubt is raised about her character and know at best she is untested. And in comes Katri. A young woman viewed equally with respect and suspicion in town. She is driven to protect her younger brother and sees a potential means out of her poverty by working herself into Anna's life and household. But Katri views herself as honest and obsessed with seeing the world objectively. Such are the constraints as she moves to manipulate the situation for her benefit. Will she win or be outwitted? In the end will there be a winner?

It's a fascinating set up.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The True Deceiver may well be a perfect book. Not a word is wasted and nothing is dumbed down: it is, in turns, complex and subtle, psychologically astute, unsettling, and controlled.

The language can only be described as spare: taut, minimalistic, precise. Take the opening lines: "It was an ordinary dark winter morning, and snow was still falling. No window in the village showed a light." In a mere two sentences, Tove Jansson sets up an entire mood and introduces a sense of danger as well as contrasts (dark/light); this author will toy with contrasts throughout the length of the book.

The two key characters are "the wolf", Katri Kling, a yellow-eyed, wolfish young woman who stands on the outskirts of her Finnish village due to her bluntness and lack of social amenities. Katri cares for her gentle and slow-witted brother, Mats, and a nameless dog who obeys her every command. She revels in her superiority to others: "My dog and I despise them. We're hidden in our own secret life, concealed in our own innermost wilderness."

Her opponent - and that is what she becomes - is Anna Aemalin, an illustrator of children's books, who has achieved a degree of fame with her charming bunnies. At first meeting, she is trusting, truthful, and, like Katri, very solitary.

As Katri gains her trust - and breaks down her sense of security - many themes come into play. Among them: "How many different truths are there, and what justifies them? What a person believes? What a person accomplishes? Self-deception? Is it only the result that counts?" Is it indeed safe and reassuring to believe in only one thing? And ultimately...who is the wolf and who is the rabbit?
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