The True Deceiver, By Tove Jansson

Reviewed,Emma Hagestadt
Friday 06 November 2009 01:00 GMT

Finnish writer and artist, Tove Jansson, is best known in this country as the creator of the Moomin stories, but her novels for adults are no less distinctive. Since her death in 2001, the author's work has become more widely available in English translation.

The True Deceiver, her third novel for adults, translated by Thomas Teal, proves a delightfully dark winter's tale. Set in an isolated Nordic hamlet, the novel tracks an intense relationship between two strong-minded women. Katri Kling is a blunt young woman who lives with her "simple" brother Mats, and has no time for social niceties. Living away from the village is Anna Aemelin, an elderly children's book illustrator whose great talent is to reproduce the flora and fauna of the forest floor.

Early in the novel, Katri decides that Anna's big house in the woods should be hers. After staging a fake break-in, she persuades Anna to take her on as a housekeeper. Soon Katri and Mats are running every aspect of the illustrator's life from weather-proofing her windows to managing her business accounts.

Although Jansson's book isn't a thriller, there's a tension to the prose which suggests that blood might be spilt. As the winter takes its toll, the two women find themselves locked in a prolonged psychological battle: Katri's cynicism tempered by Anna's more sentimental mind-set. But who's taking advantage of whom, and which woman has a better grasp of reality is up for debate. Parallels between the author's own artistic struggles and those of Anna's lend this novel exta allure.

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