The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson

true deceiverKatri Kling and her brother Mats are pariahs of a sort in their village.  He is considered simple and says very little – she says what she thinks, and is fearfully candid about the pettiness of others.  Some of the townspeople, wary of Katri’s sharp tongue and unusual looks, think of her as a witch.  Others have a passing respect of her honesty.  And Mats, in his understated manners, makes his own way, doing odd jobs, particularly at the boathouse.

In an attempt to better their situation, Katri sets her sights on Anna Aemelin, the town’s wealthiest inhabitant, a renowned children’s book illustrator who is reclusive and knows the town’s shopkeeper only by phone calls.

Katri ingratiates herself into Anna’s good graces and her home (a much better place than the attic above the shop) and through hard persuasion is able to control Anna’s finances.  At first, this is of benefit to Anna – she is well-off but woefully unaware of how to focus the use of her money.  Katri is calculating enough to pull this off for a while, if only to give her and Mats a leg up.  It’s not a bad tradeoff for Anna, at least initially.  She gets some needed house repairs done, courtesy of Mats, and due to Katri’s diligence, some hard negotiating with her publishers.

Idyllic as this arrangement seems, it’s not too long before the two women come at odds with each other, and find each other’s vulnerabilities.

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of The True Deceiver.  It’s a quick read (the book clocks in at about 180 pages), and the book evokes the harshness of winter in a small town quite nicely (the author is Finnish, the book originally published in 1982, so get your Scandinavian bearings here).  The ending was not completely clear to me – was it a triumph of will for shut-in Anna, a self-realization of denials?  Was it Katri’s win of sorts, in that she secures shelter and something else very hard to acquire for her brother, at the cost of a personal loss of companion?

I’d better mention the dog, a German Shepherd type who is a constant fixture in the story, but evolves as the women’s relationship evolves.

There’s a distinct fairytale quality about the book.  Maybe it is the eeriness of the never ending winter, or the abruptness of the narrative, or the very oddity of Katri herself.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

 

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