“As is typical of the NYRB Classics, this is another unconventional, non-commercial intrigue. The cold, the snow, the endless winter, the wolflike dog they lodge themselves into your consciousness and don't let go.”see full review » see other reviews »
“As is typical of the NYRB Classics, this is another unconventional, non-commercial intrigue. The cold, the snow, the endless winter, the wolflike dog they lodge themselves into your consciousness and don't let go.”Linda C wrote this review Sunday, April 7, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“A spare but gripping story about art, control and maybe even fascism. Put on a sweater and read about the power struggle between Katri and Anne as they wait for the ice, both literal and figurative, to break in the spring.”Kathy R wrote this review Monday, June 4, 2012. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Strange little story. I can't decide if I liked it or not. ”Debbie B wrote this review Tuesday, December 27, 2011. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“A little gem of Scandinavian literature, though succinct speaks volumes. An intriguing psychological perspective about Katri, an obscure woman talented in "the maths" and respected for her intuitive abilities who rejects monetary compensation to counsel villagers in financial and personal matters, and with her mentally encumbered brother Mats and her unnamed curious beast of a dog remain illusive outsiders in their small isolated village. Katri carefully constructs a stealthy plan to manipulate Anna, an ostensibly frivolous, though wealthy and talented illustrator of children's books in an attempt to secure financial and physical refuge for her brother and herself.
Tove Jansson's literary brilliance lies in her deft facility to utilize not only the harsh winter settings to embellish each character's personality and dialogue, but also as vivid pivotal contrasts in the dramatic transformations in Anna, Katri, Mats and even the unorthodox dog.
“I feel drawn lately to visual artist's who write. I always dismissed it in my twenties because I thought that allowing yourself that outlet would lead to dangerous territory where your visual work wouldn't stand on its own. However it seems to be a practice that can provide foundational to support many autobiographical visual careers. And with all the reading I'm doing lately I'mr ealizing that writing, like painting or cooking, is not a talent held by a precious few. We all have some capability in that regard. There's my freind who has written himself into a painter's reputation with little ephemera snippets of his supposedly backwoods Indiana upbringing, and used this to create well selling faux-outsider paintings. The last book I read was a filmmaker who came to writing novels and criticism later in her career. I started skimming the infamous YBA queen Tracey Emin's autobiography and was surprised by its readability. And to continue the trend I picked up _The True Deceiver_ by the Finnish illustrator, comic writer, painter, and author Tove Jannson. I must apologize here-Tove Jannson does not deserve any such connection with dilletante writers, she was a master of narrative and clearly a confident writer of prose. It's just that her drawings- in the Moomin comic strips I've read- are so delightful, so confidently twee, and very 60s stylish that I forget that what accentuates that drawing is the interesting, complicated morality she inserts into every one of those extended strip stories.
So its no surprise that when she entered her later stages of life, Tove turned to adult fiction. _The True Deceiver_ was published in 1982 when she was 68. The story initally feels very soft, like you're chewing on interesting flavored marshmellows. It's exciting to read because it does have the texture of a children's book: there's easily identifiable characters, sex is far far from the plotline, and the writing makes no showy attempts at poetry. It all feels very simple like the vista of snowy hills that is the books setting. You watch two intensely solitary characters, one seemingly light and one seemingly dark come together one winter in a lakeside village. There's the outcast, hard hearted Katri Kling, who watches over her brother, the village idiot, and her obedient unnamed German shepherd. They do odd jobs, eek the long winter out, and rarely speak to anyone. Katri enjoys a reputation as a numbers person, and gives advice to people on their money. And then there's Anna Amelien, an elderly children's book illustrator who lives off her doodles and enjoys a priviledged recluse's life . All her food is to delivered to her from the village store, she idolizes the memory of her parents, and lives in a musuem of her childhood. Slowly but surely their households meld as Katri finds ways of inserting herself into Anna's house as a personal secretary. Of coure their relationship is unstable and these two taciturn women become quite volatile as their union reveals surprising truths- at least to us the reader, though certainly less so to these self deceivers.
The book has many interesting themes of self deception. Of course there's the banal idea of how much do we do that's good that isn't actually an act of self interest . But there's also representations of personal lies we tell ourselves to protect our identities. (I was a little nerovus by the title! Was I going to come away from this novel with my little self annhilated of its defenses?) But no Tove gives us very reasonable llies that these women discover about themselves, the fallouts in this European novel are not the requisite violence of an American book, and the plot hinges on quite an explicit whopper that will shock if you if you allowed Jannson to lull you into complacency. This is a great book because it never makes any of these explicit, she fulfills Creative Writing 101 dictum "to show not tell." It maintians this childish deadpan throughout the novel, the simple metaphors of wild dogs and discarded furniture and fantasic boats stand confidently but not starkly agasint the plotline, and keeps the same elegantly slow pace throughout. As a result the characters take along while to ring true. But like a slighlty dull thriller that springs on fire at the end, this book pops open at the end with the gentle burst of a flower opening in a sped-up Mr. Roger's Picture Picture video. I still feel a buzz of anxiety today thinking about it.
I really enjoyed reading a gentle, but not innocent, book meant for adults. It was so foreign to my normal requirements of salicious incest, ghostly intervention, and grandiose backstabbing. The characters are not far from you and me. When the climax is people merely confronting each other and yelling, just like in real life, you realize how extreme our normal entertainment can really be. Best of all after this extended winter and its enforced solitude, it's easy to appreciate Jannson's depictions of these very different states of solitude: the misanthropic hatred and the personal superiority that are two sides of the same coin, and the euphoric dreamy sort where relationships are constructed from shards of interaction and memories and books provide delightful companionship. I've experienced both this winter, and Lord knows I can't wait for spring!
I'd be happy to loan this book out- apparently Bjork is currently writing a soundtrack for a stop-action Moomin movie coming out soon so be ahead of the curve of all those sh*thead twenty somethings who'll claim they've been reading the reissued Tove Jannson since they were kids!
“Not what I'd come to expect from Tove Jansson (not that I've read overly much), but it was a fascinating, beautifully crafted story. Poingnant.”Pamski wrote this review Monday, January 3, 2011. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Resembles the Scandinavian winter it is set in. A mood that will stay with you. Great book club book.”Alvin K wrote this review Tuesday, September 21, 2010. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“An odd, sharp little story about the ugly truths that sometimes underlie human relations. If "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" left you longing for a different kind of look at life in northern Sweden, this could be your alternative. ”Marjorie Kehe wrote this review Wednesday, February 24, 2010. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Beautifully written, sparse and dark.”J B wrote this review Wednesday, February 10, 2010. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“It's very obviously written by the same author responsible for the Moomin books! The style, although more "grown-up" is identical - suffused with melancholy, acerbic comedy, astute observation, and weather! It, too, is a world you can totally immerse yourself in. The characters are outstandingly well-drawn, and the sense of place she conveys sucks you in completely. Set in a Swedish fishing village over the harsh winter, it is primarily about two women. The first, Katri Kling, is brutally and unswervingly truthful. She is also quietly, determinedly fanatical about truth. The other, Anna Aemelin, has lived her whole life deceiving herself and everyone she encounters, in an effort to be "nice" and "liked". As well as truth, Katri loves numbers and her younger brother, Mats, who is regarded as a simpleton by the community, but who nevertheless has designed his own boat. Both women begin to change their positions in relation to truth, and their dealings with others, when Katri sets about making Anna into the means by which she can get the boat built for Mats. I fairly rattled through it, and the only thing wrong with it is that it's too short!”Mel Peake wrote this review Wednesday, January 13, 2010. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No