The True Deceiver
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The True Deceiver

3.88 of 5 stars 3.88  ·  rating details  ·  1,263 ratings  ·  208 reviews
A New York Review Books Original

Deception—the lies we tell ourselves and the lies we tell others—is the subject of this, Tove Jansson’s most unnerving and unpredictable novel. Here Jansson takes a darker look at the subjects that animate the best of her work, from her sensitive tale of island life, The Summer Book, to her famous Moomin stories: solitude and community, art...more
Paperback, 181 pages
Published December 8th 2009 by NYRB Classics (first published 1982)
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Eddie Watkins
I like Tove Jansson’s brand of wisdom. It’s not a “hard won” wisdom of the sort that has grown from the rubble of cynicism, betrayal, and defeat. It’s a clear-eyed wisdom that has never lost its innocence; a wisdom that plays even as it sees through to the dark heart of people and things. It’s the wisdom of solitude and barrenness that attracts company and fertility but doesn’t need them; content to know but not participate overmuch, radiating a warmth from its detachment.

This is a late novel by...more
Apr 27, 2012 Mariel rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Why do I smile at people I would much rather kick in the eye
Recommended to Mariel by: No one will ever love you honestly
The True Deceiver would have been a good book about living with a face you can accept yourself with if it didn't tell the reader what the lies and the truths were instead of ever actually living with those lies for the reader to figure out. Do you know that scene in the 1980's film Labyrinth (a childhood favorite) when the door keepers give Sarah (Jennifer Connoly) a riddle to solve? One of them always tells the truth and the other always lies? I could never figure it out (my twin could). I have...more
Tove Jannson's The True Deciever is a curious, unsettling book. Katri Kling speaks the truth with unceremonious judgment. Anna Armelin illustrates children's books, focusing on the forest floor moss and adding misplaced, superfluous bunnies. Katri's stoic dog, her brother Mat, and the residents of the novel's isolated Swedish town fill out this exploration of truth, deceit, and whether or not the outliers of self-deception and blunt-force truth can be reconciled.

Rarely do more than a few charac...more
Sep 23, 2011 David rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: nyrb
You know how sometimes books have characters that are so preposterously symbolic that they fail to resemble normal human beings? Meet Katri Kling, the yellow-eyed outcast at the center of Jansson's The True Deceiver—and recipient of the Simon (from Lord of the Flies) Overstated Symbol Award. And don't worry if you forget that Katri has yellow eyes, by the way, because Jansson will remind you of it five dozen more times. Katri is a naked concept masquerading as a character: a cold, almost emotion...more
this is not a peppy book. there is some small joy, and moreover, a terrible beauty in the prose, and setting. quietly dark, spare, and poetic, the true deceiver manages to be blunt and subtle, transparent and opaque, all at the same time. it's not pat, and when it ended it left me uncomfortable, and uncertain as to whether some gains were worth the loss. i was also left asking myself a lot of questions about human motivations, and about truth, and fiction, and the measurements of both; how safel...more
2.5 stars. I really wanted to like this book. Instead, I just admired it. It is an incredibly subtle, well told story that explores abstract ideas. The slow progression of the story and the characters is so well done as to be barely noticeable, like a plant that moves imperceptibly towards the sun over several weeks. The simplicity of her style, which in her other books created a deceptive openness, creates the opposite effect here by making everything veiled, hidden, mysterious and ominous. So...more
I picked this up because I love Moomin, and I thought that the cover was beautiful.

And because, I walked into Joseph Fox Booksellers. A small bookstore where you can never buy less than four books at a time because they have such a good stock. Furthermore, you've left another twenty or so behind that you just have to have.

Even better, the workers there, truly know books. You just need to know the vague sense of the plot and they can point you right to the book you want.

This isn't a children's bo...more
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.

The two key ch...more
Dec 14, 2011 Sam rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: novels
Despite glorious depictions of the Finnish winter and a persistent throb of human feeling that persists no matter how dark the subject matter becomes, this is something of a cruel book. I mean this in the best sense of the term, in the sense that it spares nobody in particular in telling the story of two women isolated in a small Finnish town and their various deceptions and self-deceptions. The struggle between Anna and Katri, a children's book illustrator and a mathematically gifted young woma...more
Nate D
Jun 09, 2011 Nate D rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: the kind and unjudgemental
Recommended to Nate D by: Maya
This a disturbing novel in an unfamiliar way. Jansson is highly adept here at exposing the mundane darknesses beneath small town life and everyday interactions. This is distinguished from, say, Lynchian darkensses behind the mundane in that there are no shocks or secrets to be exposed. Everything is intensely normal, just fraught with minor hypocrisies and polite ill-will, the kinds which most people must, presumably, ignore unthinkingly every day. And to have these things exposed so cynically a...more
Remember STAR TREK and the back-and-forth arguments between Spock and Captain Kirk? Spock was icy logic and objectivity; Kirk was fiery emotion and subjectivity. They were friends, but at times, you'd never know it.

THE TRUE DECEIVER has a dynamic similar to that, only it's set in Sweden and casts two women as personified fire and ice. Anna Aemelin is an eccentric children's book illustrator who specializes in drawings of the forest floor and... rabbits. She lives alone in a haphazard way and is...more
Rec'd ARC of this, just after reading Jansson's THE SUMMER BOOK (thank you, LibaryThing & NYRB). As in THE SUMMER BOOK, the writing here is as unadorned and crystal clear as the environment in which the story is set--in this case a cold, lonely winter in a small Swedish village. The "action" revolves around a young woman, Katri, who ingratiates herself into the solitary life of an older woman, Anna, a children's book illustrator, who lives in the largest house in the village. Through the cou...more
Imagine winter, in an isolated small community. Snowbound. You really can feel it.

And imagine two women.

First there is Anna, elderly and living alone in her old family home. She is the creator of a successful series of illustrated books for children. In the winter she stays quietly at home, attending to the correspondence she receives from her young readers. And when spring comes she goes out into the forest and paints pictures of the scenery, adorned with floral rabbits. She is content with her...more
On one level The True Deceiver can be read as a simple winter's fable about a wolf and a rabbit and how the wolf deceives its way into the rabbit's warm, comfy hole for the winter. The cold, calculating mind of the wolf conceives a way to devour the rabbit, to coerce the rabbit into letting herself be devoured. But the rabbit has a different kind of intelligence -- instinct -- which protects her.

Beyond the level of fable lies a meditation on human nature, specifically on the uses of truth. Anna,...more
Chad Post
Even better the second time around. It's stunning how perfectly polished this book is, and how deceptively simple it seems. Part of this is due to Jansson's unadorned prose, and part of it to the way that Thomas Teal is absolutely invisible in his translation of this. It's rare to read a translation that sounds so completely natural and of a piece. The committee was really smart in giving this the Best Translated Book Award last year.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
The same calm, rich prose as her novel The Summer Book, but with a much less heart-warming story. In short, this is a novel about manipulation, and Jansson doesn't sweeten it with an upside.
I find the way Tove Jansson writes about space in The True Deceiver pretty much irresistible. Not only space in a physical sense - the close confines of the house her two main characters share for the winter - but also space in a more psychological sense; the space between people. The way people encroach on each other's space, get on each other's nerves. The longing for company we all feel...and, at the same time, the drive to be alone. People are infinitely complicated things. Jansson has a way...more
Have you ever felt pulled to someone whom you sensed, with some mute and primal part of yourself, was capable of destroying the foundations of your perception of reality? Have you ever wanted to befriend someone who could tear you to bits and then comment on how pretty your bloodstains looked in the snow? If you answered yes--can you answer why?

Welcome to author Tove Jansson's endless winter. The heavy sky never lifts and the sea is frozen past the horizon. Two women have been trapped in their c...more
James Perkins
In some ways, I enjoyed this book, and in some ways, I didn't. I emerged from the story feeling confused, as it ended rather abruptly, with too many hanging threads to be really satisfying. Anna, the writer in the secluded house on the edge of a countryside village, might be based on Jansson herself, with the odd flowery rabbits in Anna's children's books a thinly-veiled reference to her own bizarre Moomin creations. Katri quite literally steals her way into Anna's life, and somehow becomes her...more
As i was finishing this book, I imagined it would go on a list of media that came highly recommended but which I hated after reading only to come to love it. After finishing it, I wasn't sure it would make it on the list despite it being excellently written and fairly compelling. As with the other items on the aforementioned list, this book is unsettling. Very unsettling. The night I finished the book, I had horrible nightmares and dreamed up a real sinister character.

All that said, I loved the...more
This is a very good novel. It's totally intriguing from the first page, and somewhat suspenseful - we know there is a conflict and deception will be one of the weapons wielded, but who will be deceived and how? Or is the reader being deceived by Jansson's set up?

The book is simply written, but very efficient and effective in it's language, in the descriptions of character, and in the snow stormy environs and it's chilling interplay in different scenes. The novel itself is deceiving - don't be f...more
Melanie Peake
It's very obviously written by the same author responsible for the Moomin books! The style, although more "grown-up" is identical - suffused with melancholy, acerbic comedy, astute observation, and weather! It, too, is a world you can totally immerse yourself in. The characters are outstandingly well-drawn, and the sense of place she conveys sucks you in completely. Set in a Swedish fishing village over the harsh winter, it is primarily about two women. The first, Katri Kling, is brutally and un...more
Monica Carter
"They say that money smells; it's not true. Money is as pure as numbers. It's people that smell, every one of them with their own furtive stink, and it gets stronger when they're angry or ashamed or when they're afraid."

Finland's Tove Jansson is best known for her children's books about the beloved hippo-like character, Moomintroll, and the rest of the Moomin family. She was an artist as well as a writer which added to her unique talent in creating books for children. But she was also a gifte...more
Tove Jansson is famous as the author of the illustrated Moomin books for children, which I've never read but keep meaning to. Later in life, she apparently stopped writing the Moomin books and wrote serious novels instead. The True Deceiver is a short and excellent novel about the meeting of two clashing personalities and philosophies of life. Katri believes in direct honesty, exposing hypocrisy, practical efficiency, and forgoing small talk and pleasantries. Anna is a flighty artist, wealthy fr...more
*** e 1/2

non si può mai essere veramente sicuri, sicuri al cento per cento di non aver comunque utilizzato qualche forma di servilismo indegno, di adulazione, aggettivi senza copertura, tutto quel solito disgustoso meccanismo che si muove impunemente e incessantemente dappertutto per ottenere ciò che si vuole, forse un vantaggio o neppure quello, per lo più solo perché è nell'uso cercare di rendersi gradevoli più che si può e sbrogliarsela così...

Tove Jansson scriveva racconti per bambini e la s...more
My first encounter with Tove Jansson's adult fiction and not the last one if I can help it. I think I'm going to have to take a while to recover first, though.

The True Deceiver is chilling in more than one sense of the word. The claustrophobic air of a village buried in snow, described in Jansson's precise, detached prose (I swear there was not a single word out of place), took hold of me from the very first page and the emotional impact built up steadily from then on until it was almost too muc...more
"the evanescent smell of unread book, a smell unlike any other" - if that's a familiar smell to you, and more importantly a familiar evanescence, this book is for you.

First things first - avoid Ali Smith's introduction and read that as an afterword instead if you don't want spoilers.
This book features an excellent story, compelling characters and landscape, and writing so finely textured and matched to the content that true immersion takes place.
The clarity of the language is intensely attracti...more
Katri Kling er en ærlig dame med en stor hund. Hun bor sammen med sin bror, Mats, i liten forlatt fiskeby i Sverige. Det er vinter og det er snø og Mats bygger båter og Katri regner tall. Alt er stille og rolig helt til Katri setter i gang sin plan. Hun vil glede sin bror og for å gjøre nettopp dette må hun starte et spill, et spill som starter ut ærlig og ender opp som noe hun ikke selv ved hva er lengre. I dette spillet spiller Anna Aemelin en stor rolle. Nøkkelbrikken i det ærlige spillet. An...more
I don't know whether I understood the characters in this book fully or their actions, but that's why I liked it. Tove Jansson creates people that are ice cold and slippery, as changeable as the winter weather, they shift and morph around each other, each person buffeted by the actions of those around them. With a deceptively simple story the characters have an iceberg-like quality; their true motives buried somewhere deep beneath the ice.

And that's enough wintery metaphors from me.
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Iperborea: 011 - (LUGLIO14) L'onesta bugiarda di Tove Jansson 6 8 Sep 17, 2014 02:48AM  
NYRB Classics: The True Deceiver, by Tove Jansson 1 5 Oct 30, 2013 09:06PM  
NYRB Classics: March 2013: The True Deceiver 23 68 Apr 18, 2013 07:11PM  
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Tove Jansson was born and died in Helsinki, Finland. As a Finnish citizen whose mother tongue was Swedish, she was part of the Swedish-speaking Finns minority. Thus, all her books were originally written in Swedish.

Although known first and foremost as an author, Tove Jansson considered her careers as author and painter to be of equal importance.

Tove Jansson wrote and illustrated her first Moomin...more
More about Tove Jansson...
Finn Family Moomintroll (The Moomins, #3) The Summer Book Moominsummer Madness (The Moomins, #5) Comet in Moominland (The Moomins, #2) The Moomins and the Great Flood (The Moomins, #1)

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“It was simply that she was only fully alive when she devoted herself to her singular ability to draw, and when she drew she was naturally always alone.” 7 likes
“Anna hadde gitt hunden et navn fordi alt navnløst har en tilbøyelighet til å vokse, hun avkledde dyrets farlighet ved å kalle det Teddy.” 5 likes
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