Saturday, August 27, 2011

[TSS] Musings: The True Deceiver

The True Deceiver
Tove Jansson's The True Deceiver is one of those deceptive books.  It's written in very straightforward, plain language over the course of only 180 pages, but within those short sentences and each short chapter, we delve into issues such as reality vs. perception, trust vs. distrust, isolation vs. population, winter vs. spring and, a major theme, wolf vs. rabbit.

I must admit that I enjoyed this book but didn't understand all its subtleties and symbols until after I read the introduction by Ali Smith.  At that point, I had many "A-ha!" moments, and so in this case I can say that for me, at least, the introduction was a great help in comprehending the many levels of this novel.

Katri Kling and her brother, Mats, live in a very isolated town in northern Sweden.  They don't have many friends.  Katri isn't very friendly or polite, but she is honest and has a very good sense for numbers, so while people do not like her, they respect her.  The villagers think there is something wrong with Mats' mind, so they give him odd jobs to do around the village.  The two are close, but don't talk much.  They also have a large, silent dog without a name.

Anna Aemelin lives farther removed from the village, in a large house she inherited from her parents.  She is a well-known illustrator of children's books, in which she renders the details of the forest ground at spring in minute detail.  She also populates these pictures with rabbits that have flowery fur, which have made her very popular, but which she doesn't like very much herself. Katri has a plan to become necessary to Anna, insinuating herself and her brother into Anna's life until they no longer have to worry about money or other people.  But at what cost will this more comfortable life come?

This is a novel of slow brilliance.  It is written so simply, so starkly, that you don't even realize how powerful each word is.  The symbolism of Katri the wolf against Anna the rabbit, of someone comfortable with winter against someone waiting for spring, of someone who deals in facts and reality against someone who lives in a world of her own making, is fantastic.  And I don't mean to make it seem as though the wolf and winter and facts are inherently the villain and the rabbit and spring and fantasy are the victims- not at all.  The interplay between Katri and Anna is just that.  Sometimes one dominates and then the other one.  Neither is very easy-to-like, nor do they seem to like each other, but they continue to circle each other and play off each other.

I don't know what else I can say without giving something away, as the novel is so short. I read this at the height of summer, but I think if you were to curl up with it on a deep winter's night, when the snow is falling and it feels like spring will never come, that you'll have an even more atmospheric experience of being cold, isolated and cramped within a space defined by ice.  It's a huge success of a suspenseful story, and I look forward to reading more by Jansson.

14 comments:

  1. I loved The Summer Book so I really want to get my hands on this one. I'm glad you liked it.

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  2. I am really enjoying reading the Moomin family books to my son. They were also written by Jansson so I recently bought the True Deceiver. I didn't want to read to much of your review but do you think it will make a good book club read? Will it generate a lot of discussion?

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  3. I have some sort of reasonless prejudice against Scandinavian authors, which I cannot trace back to any particular source, but which is the reason I still haven't read Tove Janssen in spite of many, many positive reviews.

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  4. I think Nymeth is really fond of Tove Janssen, but I have never really explored his work before. I am a little torn with this review, because on the one hand, I don't think I would fully understand everything that goes on in the book. On the other hand, the plot synopsis and the way that you describe it sound fascinating to me. I guess it might just be the type of book you have to jump in and let the chips fall as they may. It does sound like it would be a good book for a long winter's night though. I really think you did a great job with this review, both in your perceptions, and in your honesty.

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  5. Chris - I am the opposite! Want to read The Summer Book soon.

    Mrs. B. - Yes, I definitely think this would be a great book club read! There is a lot of symbolism and a lot of scenes that could be viewed in different ways - great discussion could come.

    Jenny - Well, if you are prejudiced, I can't hope to shake those strong convictions ;-)

    Zibilee - Yes, I think she is, too. I think it's one of those books you can read now and mull, and then in a few years, read again and have a different experience. I look forward to keeping it on my shelf!

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  6. This sounds good. I have never even heard of the author before.

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  7. Oooh, this sounds good! I'm so adding to my TBR for the winter!

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  8. Darn you, Aarti, quit reviewing books in a way that compels me to read them! :)

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  9. I loved The Summer Book, but I hesitate to pick up this one as it sounds so different from The Summer Book. I'll have to mull on it - thanks for the review!

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  10. This sounds like just the sort of suspenseful story that I will enjoy. I live in the sunny part of California so I can't wait for the snow but can read it on a dark and stormy night with wind and rain! ha!

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  11. This is the second review of a Jansson title I've read today. I loved The Summer Book, and plan to check this out! Thanks for the review!

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  12. The Summer Book is the only Janssen I've read but this sounds very intriguing.

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  13. Like Chris, I loved The Summer book and this high up my list of wishlisted books. Glad you enjoyed it.

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  14. I'll follow your suggestion and save this for a snowed-in winter afternoon. These NYRB books seem to "fit" me well.

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