Monday, April 15, 2013

The True Deceiver, by Tove Jansson

I assume most people come to know Tove Jansson through her Moomintroll books, but for whatever reason, they never came to my attention when I was a child. So my introduction to her was through the New York Review of Books reissue of The Summer Book , which we had a very nice discussion of over at Goodreads awhile ago. And in some ways, I don't think True Deceiver quite meets the mark of The Summer Book, which seems to me a  near perfect thing. But that's not to say that there isn't plenty of treasure to be found in this short novella.

The novella essentially revolves around three characters--well, four if you count the dog, as you probably should: Katri Kling and her younger brother Mats, her nameless German shepherd, and a famous children's book illustrator, Anna Aemelin. As the story opens, Katri is living over a shop with her brother, but she doesn't get on with the shopkeeper, and is looking for a way out of her predicament. When she realizes that there is plenty of room in Anna's big old family home, she finds a way to work herself into Anna's household.

Katri is the kind of prickly personality who doesn't really have friends. She is perhaps too singleminded to want any. I feel that this is a kind of female character that we have seen before--she reminds me a bit of Temple Grandin as played by Claire Danes. Based on what I read about Jansson last time around, it may not be very far off from Jansson herself. At the same time, though, Jansson's own life must figure in Anna Aemelin's as well, as the serious artist who has somehow been overtaken by her childrens book creations. (In the story it's adorable bunnies, painted with flowers).
The more I think about it, the more I think that there's a level to this story that is about different parts of the psyche coming together. There is a way in which all the characters have to incorporate parts of the other, or take the advise of another to move beyond their current state. I found myself particularly intrigued with what Katri offered Anna. Anna is living frozen in time, at least until spring when she can begin to make her intricate study of the forest floor again. Katri helps her get rid of some of her immobilizing past--the weight of the family history--not by sorting through it, but by just taking a whole pile of old furniture out on the ice, ready to sink beneath the surface once the ice melts. Talk about your decluttering.

Anna has also been negligent about her finances, carelessly letting people do her out of her profits. Anna is getting by okay without it, but Katri helps her see that what she is really doing is turning a blind eye to the potentiality that money represents. But in the end, as this seems to be a book about finding balance and perspective, Katri herself wonders if she has gone to far.

This isn't a heartwarming book. It is really the story of how three highly individual people acclimatize themselves to each other, and in some ways, how they don't. It has a lot to say about the life of community, both in the household form and in the larger community sense, and if it's a bit cynical in that regard, well, it is a winter story...

There's a nice piece by novelist Ali Smith on the book, which you can read HERE .


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