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The True Deceiver

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  3,582 ratings  ·  484 reviews
A New York Review Books Original

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 and life,
Paperback, 181 pages
Published December 8th 2009 by NYRB Classics (first published 1982)
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Average rating 3.84  · 
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 ·  3,582 ratings  ·  484 reviews

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Eddie Watkins
Jan 19, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: finnish-fiction
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
Dec 17, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Tove Jansson is probably still best known as the creator of the Moomins. Having read The Summer Book some years ago, I was already aware that she was also a talented and perceptive writer for adults. This book is deceptive - at first glance it seems like a simple tale of life in a small village in the harsh Scandinavian winter, but it gradually reveals itself to be a devastating character study as well as a reflection on the nature of creativity.

It has two main characters. Katri is a somewhat
Jan 23, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Sep 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
Early, in this little gem of a novel, Katri Kling and Edvard Liljeberg have this dialogue:

"I can take the mail up to Miss Aemelin," she said.
"I can't let you do that; it's the postman's job to deliver the mail. It's a position of trust."
Katri lifted her face and opened her eyes at him; in the hard light on the porch they were truly yellow. "Trust," she said. "Don't you trust me?" She paused and then repeated, "I can take the mail up to Miss Aemelin. It's important to me."
"Are you trying to
Jan 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Lark Benobi
This is a perfect novel in the same way The Great Gatsby is a perfect novel. Not in the sense of "best" novel--but, in that it perfectly executes its intention, its reason to exist as a novel.

Instead of a traditional protagonist-antagonist relationship there are two antagonists of equal and opposing strength at the heart of this novel. The only characteristic the two women share is the utter isolation each endures in daily life. While part of a community, they are set apart from that community,
Sep 23, 2011 rated it liked it
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 ...more
May 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
May 10, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Anna is a popular illustrator whose flowered rabbits have made her famous. In hibernation during the winter, once spring arrives, she paints, with realism, the ground of the forest around her home. She then paints realistic rabbits on her painted forest floor, and then inexplicably feels compelled to paint flowers on the rabbits’ bodies. She doesn’t know why she does it: such are the demands of Art. (I’m reminded of the so-called Big Eyes artist and such a thing possibly being considered
Joy Stephenson
Jan 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
I’ve got mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand I found it compelling to read and stayed up late to finish it, because I couldn’t put it down. I especially liked the spare style of writing; nothing was overblown. On the other hand the main characters weren’t realistic; they were sort of fairytale symbols. The theme of the book seems to be to explore how much truth/ honesty we want and whether people are actually happier with some level of kindly deception.
Jun 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Antonomasia by: Best Translated Book Award winner 2011
[4.5] Alongside The Summer Book, this is surely the strongest of Jansson's adults' fiction works. I've connected with her grown-up books in a way I never quite did with Moomins, and this is the fifth volume I've read since joining GR.

I almost didn't read The True Deceiver, assuming that it would have a sinister unreliable narrator, a type that, although it has obvious room for literary artistry, I do get tired of. Aside from the odd paragraph, The True Deceiver is actually told in third person.
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
Nate D
Feb 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: the kind and unjudgemental
Recommended to Nate D by: Maya
This is 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 darknesses 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 ...more
Nov 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: finished-in-2010
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
Misha  Mathew
My first thought after I completed this was, 'how do I describe this book?' I found it a bit of a struggle to pinpoint the exact plot of the book. After a first few attempts, I realized the whole point of the book was to leave the reader with very few answers and more questions.

This was my introduction to Tove Jansson's books. The True Deceiver is about two women, both outcasts from the society. There's Katri Kling, who stays with her brother, Mat, above the grocery store. She is brutally
Sep 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2011
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 ...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
Dec 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Nov 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is a disturbing little book on the lies we tell ourselves and the lies we tell others. This is not a happy book. There is a stark beauty in the prose and the setting. It's a story about outsiders and community, about siblings and trust.

It takes place in a tiny community in the dead of winter. Katri and Mats are orphans and Katri has a plan for a better life that involves an aging, reclusive book illustrator. Lots of deception and lies happen and by the end the book really had me questioning
Doug H - On Hiatus
Apr 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
A short novel that is as cold and dark as a long Finnish winter. Maybe a bit too controlled and overtly symbolic, but impressive and memorable.
Brendan Monroe
This is an odd little book that doesn't say much while pretending to say a whole lot. Each sentence is laden with so much symbolism that when you get to the end you can't help but wonder if that was all there was to it. There's so much darkness here that it's hard for much of anything to come to light.

This just wasn't a very fun book to read. I'd pick it up before bed, read the first chapter, feel myself drifting off, and put it down. The next night I'd pick it up before bed, re-read the first
Callum McLaughlin
Tove Jansson’s The True Deceiver is a deceptively simple tale that ruminates on the likes of art, community, love, and change. We follow two very different women who have both isolated themselves from society in their own ways. Katri is emotionally distant, but takes her role as guardian of her teenage brother very seriously. Anna is an artist, known for illustrating a popular series of children’s stories. The book opens with Katri vowing to initiate herself into Anna’s life – and home – by any ...more
magdalena dyjas
*** is a little harsh, but i couldn't give it 4 stars... saying that, i'm still undecided and keep changing my mind about this book. i wanted it to be really good, but i'm not sure that i've got what i wished for (...and that's why i don't review books - i'm rubbish at it, always have been and always will be - i'm much better at reading than writing, even my teachers used to point that out... and 25 years later nothing's changed ;))
Claire McAlpine
Apr 27, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: translated, fiction
2014 is the 100th anniversary since the birth of Tove Jansson, so I'm reading more of her work in recognition of this.

The True Deceiver is the story of an aging woman artist Anna Aemelin who lives alone on the outskirts of small village, snow bound as the opening pages reveal its stillness and propensity for chatter.

Anna keeps to herself and is content that way, her post and necessary supplies are delivered, there is minimal disruption to her way of life and the inspiration that feeds her
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
3.5 stars

A hard-edged young woman on the fringes of society decides she wants what a local children’s book illustrator (a vague, reclusive and clueless woman) has, and sets out to get it according to her own peculiar moral code. Over the course of a long Finnish winter, both characters use each other, take from each other and perhaps become a little more like each other by the end.

This novella is a quick read and an interesting one. But it is perhaps too literary for me – it is all very subtle
Nov 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Mar 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In a small, far-northern Scandinavian village, everyone's a bit scared of Katri and her large, nameless dog . . . even at the same time as they rely upon Katri's analytical mind and astonishing mathematical aptitude to help them make their decisions. For her part, Katri has decided that she and her brother Mats will move themselves up in the world by latching onto Anna, the elderly, somewhat dotty children's illustrator who lives in the "Rabbit House" on the outskirts of town. However, Katri ...more
Mar 23, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: borrowed
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
Chad Post
Jan 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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.
Liz Yerby
Sep 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
What does it mean when I've read two books in a row which talk about tying a dead chicken to a dogs neck to teach him not to kill chickens?

Katri is like a libra gone too far. I'm assuming this book is what Scandinavia feels like. Teaches you to trust no one but then oops trust someone it's dark n ur sad.
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Nordic Book Club: January 2017 - The True Deceiver 2 18 Jan 30, 2017 08:14AM  
Iperborea: 011 - (LUGLIO14) L'onesta bugiarda di Tove Jansson 6 14 Sep 17, 2014 02:48AM  
NYRB Classics: The True Deceiver, by Tove Jansson 1 11 Oct 30, 2013 09:06PM  
NYRB Classics: This topic has been closed to new comments. March 2013: The True Deceiver 23 80 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
“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.” 18 likes
“Before she left, she said, "Just remember one thing: Going along with something doesn't mean you give in to it.[...]” 5 likes
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