Jimmy's Reviews > The True Deceiver

The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson
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Feb 22, 11

bookshelves: female, finland, nyrb, novel, and-a-half-stars, year-1980s
Read from February 19 to 22, 2011

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 little is known and so little revealed that the reader is constantly wondering if he is the one being deceived (as well he should).

However, I could never really fall for the book. I really disliked the Katri character. I found her to be manipulative, and her over emphasis on facts and figures to be a bear. Also, the way that she tried to change Anna was so annoying. She was pushy and wouldn’t leave her alone.

Anna’s character wasn’t any better in terms of faults and flaws. She had the opposite flaws. She was overly naive. I’m sure this would’ve irked some people the way Katri irked me, but I found her pleasant at the beginning of the novel. I guess I really don’t mind overly naive people. And in fact, I found it a pity that she slowly lost her charm as Katri’s cynicism moved into her house.

Although, about that last point, Katri would say that she lost her naivete a long time ago, and that now she was just lying to herself. Self deception. Perhaps. I don’t know if I buy that.

One thing about Katri, though, was that she was supposed to be honest, honest to the point of being unpleasant, frowning upon social niceties. And yet she lied. She lied about her intentions when carrying out her plan to move into Anna’s house. Her whole plan was deceptive from the start. Does she really think her type of deception is better than Anna’s self deception?

And at the end of the novel, when Katri said she lied about the people who she claimed had cheated on Anna, was it because she really did lie about it? Or was it because her conscience felt bad because she had made Anna distrust everybody in town? Or was it because she realized that the truth (of the objective sort) wasn’t the most important thing in the world.

The changes in the characters as the novel went on were impressive in their believability and in the way they took effect in slow shifts. The characters are still who they were, but were somehow affected by the other ones. I feel like this is how people really are. They don't change entirely, the way they do in some movies and novels (with revelations! tada!) but are... contaminated. Their core being gets muddied up with what they realize they aren’t, or can’t be. They realize their shortcomings and they are sad and concede a little, but really they are still the same. Just less sure of themselves.

This book made me think, and it is truly a stellar book. But I can’t lie to myself and say I enjoyed reading it; I would be the true deceiver if I did. It was a little too dark for me, and I needed a little more light. I was just in the wrong mood for it. In other words: great book, stubborn reader.
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message 1: by Nate D (last edited Jun 10, 2011 10:58AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Nate D I got the impression that Katri didn't deliberately lie about people cheating Anna, but that she realized that people and their motives are sort of outside objective truth and both she and Anna's outlooks were correct in some sense. I think her slow realization (back-contamination from Anna) was that forcing a purely negative outlook on Anna had resulted in some kind of net loss, whatever her intent at the time. If I'm not overly epiphanizing an ending which basically avoids epiphanies. It was definitely a really grim book, but in such a subtle way that I totally loved it, I think.


Maureen i agree it wasn't a pleasant read but it was a well-written and thought-provoking one.

i like this from your review very much:

The changes in the characters as the novel went on were impressive in their believability and in the way they took effect in slow shifts. The characters are still who they were, but were somehow affected by the other ones. I feel like this is how people really are. They don't change entirely, the way they do in some movies and novels (with revelations! tada!) but are... contaminated. Their core being gets muddied up with what they realize they aren’t, or can’t be. They realize their shortcomings and they are sad and concede a little, but really they are still the same. Just less sure of themselves.

and i don't think that katri would understand these points at all. :) i think your friend nate's point above is valid though as regards her beginning to understand people and their motives being outside objective truth, but i do think you're right, and she did deliberately lie. i think she just excused herself as people are prone to do while they condemn the same behaviour in others...

am tempted to read it again. :)


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