The True Deceiver, by Tove Jansson
This novel by Finnish writer Tove Jansson (1914–2001) was originally published in 1982 (Den ärliga bedragaren). The Finnish, but Swedish-speaking, Tove Jansson was born an artistic child of bohemian Finnish artists. Signe Hammarsten, her mother, was one of Finland's best-known artists, designers and book illustrators, while her father, Viktor Jansson, was a celebrated sculptor.
Tove Jansson is world-famous for her Moomin tales for children, with her own illustrations. So it is easy, but actually a very common mistake, to think of her “only” as a writer of children’s books. As a matter of fact, she wrote 11 books for adults. Two other books for adults, The Summer Book and A Winter Book, have also been translated into English. The True Deceiver is the third of these books.
This novel focuses on an intense relationship between two strong women in a snowy Swedish village. It is beautifully and sparsely written. It is a short but very compelling tale with considerable depth. Katri Kling is an outsider living with her simple-minded brother. She is a woman that has little time for politeness, niceties and social conventions. Also, she is brutally frank. Anna Aemelin, the other main character in this novel, is an artist. Her great talent is to reproduce the flora and fauna of the forest floor. But Anna has something Katri wants.
Katri is a deceptive lady. She wants Anna's big house in the woods. So she stages fake break-in and persuades Anna to take her on as a housekeeper. Slowly and deliberately Katri insinuates herself into Anna's life. Then she moves in with her brother Mats. And starts taking over more and more aspects of Anna’s life, moving from weather-proofing her windows to managing her business accounts. Gradually and increasingly she proceeds to shatter Anna’s perceptions.
It is hard to classify The True Deceiver. It's so rich that it trancends narrowly defined genres. It is a very unusual and somewhat unsettling book. It may be viewed as a novel about class and hierarchy, or about power in dependency relationships, as an autobiography or as a psychological thriller. Perhaps it is mostly the latter, as Jansson writes in a way that gradually increases the tension and increasingly makes you feel that something bad is going to happen. The intensity of the battle between the two women grows steadily.
The True Deceiver is well written, excellently translated by Thomas Teal, mysterious, quite tense, sometimes beautiful and sometimes cruel, deeply unsettling, deep and at times startling. A study of truth, deception and paradox. It is not a book will easily forget, and it is definitely well worth reading.
“I loved this book...understated yet exciting, and with a tension that keeps you reading. .. The characters still haunt me.” —Ruth Rendell
“The unfolding of the story through vivid contrast and interplay of truthfulness and deceit, purity and complexity, ice and thaw, winter and spring, makes this the most beautiful and satisfying novel I have read this year.” —Ursula K. Le Guin, The Guardian
“Tove Janssen is a great, engaging talent -- a serious, complex, occasionally macabre novelist .. In Scandinavia, she is regarded as a treasure. As we come better to understand her achievement, we honor her likewise.” –HornBook
“This translation of a powerful psychological thriller in a snowy Swedish landscape is chilling in every sense.” —Saga Magazine
“A delightfully dark winter's tale...the novel tracks an intense relationship between two strong-minded women.” —Emma Hagestadt, Independent
“An absorbing and subtle novel from the woman best known for creating the Moomin stories.” —Daily Express
The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
The Summer Book is a real genuine feel-good book. It has been excellently translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal. It tells the story of an old woman who spends the summers on a tiny island in the Gulf of Finland with her six-year-old granddaughter. They enjoy being together; have some kind of understanding of one another. They live a plain, ordinary life, and do what ordinary people do in Scandinavia when they areat their cabins by the sea. So the story is very recognizable and feels very authentic. They wander around, look at things, pick flowers, watch storms, take an occasional trip in a rowing boat to a neighboring island, watch the cat, and do ordinary things.
However, in all they do, all the ordinary observations, there are deeper truths, larger contexts, and more to be understood. And somehow those larger truths, that wider perspective quietly emerges in this delicious book by Tove Jansson. It is not a book that preaches, not a book that teaches – just a book that tells a quiet tale in a delightful way and at the same time, almost unnoticed, reveals the significance of what is happening in a light, sweet and tender manner.
This, of course, is Finnish Tove Jansson’s special talent and quality, this is exactly what has made her Moomin children's books what they are – something more than just sweet stories, stories, perhaps, with a deeper meaning.
The book is full of wisdom, imparted by a wise old lady to a member of the younger generation. Coming across a sign saying "NO TRESPASSING" on a nearby island, the grandmother tells her grandchild: "No well-bred person goes ashore on someone else's island when there's no one home. But if they put up a sign, then you do it anyway, because it's a slap in the face." Jansson is an excellent writer and tells her stories in a straight-forward and simple manner. Even so, they are stories deserving of considerable pondering and reflection. They contain wisdom, and at times perhaps the wisdom of an age that is disappearing as we speak – but even so, knowledge very deserving of some careful consideration. I loved this book, so full of superb descriptions, and rich with everyday philosophy, beautifully and quietly told, and gently filled with compelling food for thought. The Summer Book is a little treasure!
"Poetic understatement, dry humor and a deep love for nature are obvious throughout her oeuvre.... The book is as lovely, as evocative as a film by Hayao Miyazaki." --Time Out New York
“A wise, joyous book...it unfolds the knowledge and the beauty of the two lives it embraces–old wisdom and young discover, intertwining like vines.” –Rex Reed
"A...beautiful novel which blends humour and poetry with detailed observation of tiny things." –Daily Mail (London)
"Every so often, a book is published that captures something in us...The Summer Book is one of those." –Daily Telegraph
"The Summer Book is beautiful and warm, with the kind of wisdom we can adapt to our everyday lives." -Liv Ullmann