The True Deceiver

Some time ago, in my post about the book ‘The Discoverer‘, I mentioned discovering a few good reads in translation through Three Percent’s Annual “Best Translated Book Award”. I have continued to find great reads through this source, be it Confessions of Noa Weber, or Memories of the Future and now this year’s winner – Tove Jansson’s The True Deceiver.
Tove Jansson was a Finnish writer, who wrote this book at the prime age of 60, but was already quite famous as a writer by then, although for a different kind of fiction – children books. She is best known as the creator of some reportedly lovable creatures called Moomins. Her fiction is based in the lands of moomins.
So, at the heart of her most celebrated work was imagination and a fantasy world. When she moved on to adult fiction, she switched to writing about reality (with dark tones). Perhaps this duality troubled her, or at least elicited some contemplation, because it seems to be at the center of The True Deceiver. In these 180 pages, she has placed both her selves – the realist and the fantasist opposite each other, playing them off. The children book writer is characterized in Anna, who is an illustrator. She is the dreamy one who likes the warmth of summer and believes in the goodness of people. She likes to paint, and when she is not doing that, she escapes into adventure stories. Anna is forced to confront Jansson’s realist avatar – Katri, who loves hard numbers and is very comfortable in the harshness of winter. She is often consulted by the villagers for her logical arbitration, hates dishonesty and is very uncomfortable with all forms of kindness. When they come together, Katri’s objectivity is forced on Anna, shaking her fantasy world. Sadly, the line between objectivity and cynicism is too narrow for anyone walking that path, and Tove Jansson portrays this poetically in flashes of anger, rebellion felt by an old woman.
The book, though an adult fiction, has the writing style of a children’s book. Sentences are short and yet descriptive. Most significantly, there is very little abstraction, which is refreshing in fiction of such darkness. It is almost as if she was writing for a child, who has learned the ways of the world but not learned complex sentences. Sometimes, it is as good as having illustrations. I cannot get out of my head the image of old furniture lying on a frozen lake in anticipation of the arrival of summers, when it will drown in the lake or flow off with the water. Nor of the mad dog in a desolate lighthouse.
But this is not a book from the writer of children books. It is from someone else.

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