Published in 1982 and only now translated into English, Tove Jansson's novel asks the timeless question, whether it is better to be kind than to be truthful when a poor woman inveigles her way into a wealthy older woman's life.
In literature, there are quirky novels that try hard to stand out. And then there are different novels, which come from a mind with a unique point of view and can't help but show us something new.In this sense, Tove Jansson has the advantage of being from a different time and place, born in Finland in 1914. She was best known for her Moomin comics, absurdist tales about a family of what look like upright hippos. But The True Deceiver, published in 1982 and only now translated into English, is definitely an adult novel, albeit a deceptively simple one. In it, Katri and Anna live in a seaside village, empty outside of tourist season. Katri is the town misfit, an orphan living barely above the poverty line. Anna, born into wealth, is an elderly illustrator of children's books featuring flower-printed bunnies. Using a trumped-up string of robberies as an excuse, Katri insinuates herself into Anna's life, house, and finances. Jansson's quiet writing style works because of its honesty. She deals with seemingly mundane subjects-money, irritation, petty dishonesties-to show that our everyday interactions form the basis of our philosophical view of the world. Much of the plot centers on Katri taking over Anna's accounting, not usually a topic to inspire passions, but it showcases the clash between Katri's suspicious nature and Anna's willful blindness. Throughout, Jansson weaves in a subtle suspense that leaves readers uneasy because we're never quite sure of its cause. And every time the narrative seems to be heading in a conventional direction, Jansson subtly tweaks our expectations. A novel about eccentric characters caught in a clash of class and generation could easily devolve into clich, but with Jansson, we're in the hands of a storyteller who truly has something worthwhile to say.