Directory reviewer Linda Hepworth takes an in-depth look at Tove Jansson’s powerful psychological thriller.

Some reflections on The True Deceiver


This is a wonderfully complex, yet sparely written story which has at its centre the evolving relationship between two women, Katri Klings and Anna Aemelin. Katri, a 25-year old woman, has looked after her 15-year old brother, Mats, since the death of their mother nine years earlier. She is seen as cold and calculating, as far too honest and plain-speaking in her dealings with other people, and as totally lacking in awareness of, and concern for, any social niceties. Regarded as an outsider, although she and her family have lived in the village for many years, she, and to a lesser extent Mats, are treated with considerable hostility and suspicion by most of the adults and children in the village. However, Katri is good with numbers and has a clear sense of fairness and justice; she is unfailingly honest and objective, and has the ability to help other people resolve problems and conflicts. These attributes encourage people to seek and act on her advice, thus making her a very powerful person in the community, with the inevitable ambivalence this arouses.


Mats is a slow, gentle lad who is described as ‘simple’ by the villagers, but he does straightforward jobs well and with great care and attention. He particularly enjoys helping out in the Liljeberg’s boat yard, and with remarkable talent has drawn up an excellent design for a boat. He dreams of building it and of sailing away to live the life of the seafaring adventure books he so enjoys. It is Katri’s dream, come what may, to ensure that he gets his boat.Katri is aware of Anna, an elderly, successful illustrator of books for young children, who lives in a large, isolated house on the edge of the village. Anna is a rather fey character whose romanticised drawings of furry, flower-covered rabbits seem at odds with her almost forensically accurate depictions of the flora of the forest floor, thus providing early clues to the complexity of her personality.


Katri envies Anna her house and her wealth, and decides that she can secure Mats’ future if she can make herself indispensable to this rather fearful old lady. She starts by displacing Anna’s previous housekeeper and, along with Mats, starts doing shopping and other errands for Anna, as well as jobs around the house. A local burglary gives her the idea of faking a break-in and robbery in order to make Anna afraid to continue living alone. This ruse is successful, and Anna invites Katri and Mats to move in with her, thus beginning a chain of events – of deceptions, counter-deceptions, and the exposure of self-deceptions, all of which see each of the characters change as winter gives way to spring. The very subtle storytelling explores the influences each has on the other, their hidden depths, their developing self-awareness and the changing dynamics in the household, and within the village. The ice finally cracks and adjustments have to be made.


Nothing is simple in this story: the characters are multi-faceted, and in their interactions each is as capable of cruelty as of kindness. Jansson exposes basic human interaction in a cuttingly perceptive yet sensitive way: her characters are flawed, not always particularly likeable or attractive and are often cruel. In spite of this she manages to convey a capacity for change and for some optimism, and a hope that they can move on after their experiences during the long winter. I found it impressive that such spare writing could convey such a range of powerful emotions, so much tension and intensity – not one word felt wasted, but neither was I left feeling that any were missing.


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True DeceiverThe True Deceiver

by Tove Jonsson

is published in

paperback by

Sort Of Books,

price £7.99. 









The Summer Book (1972)

Sun City (1974)

The True Deceiver (1982)

Short Story Collections: Sculptor’s Daughter (1968)

A Winter Book (1998 compilation)

Fair Play (1989)

Travelling Light (1987) 


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Comet in Moominland (1946)

Finn Family Moomintroll (1948)

The Exploits of Moominpappa (1950)

Moominland Midwinter (1957)

Moominpappa at Sea (1965)

Moominvalley in November (1970)

Short Story Collection: Tales from Moominvalley (1962)


Picture Books:

The Book about Moomin, Mymble and Little My (1952)

Who Will Comfort Toffle? (1960)

The Dangerous Journey (1977) 


Comic Strips:

Moomin Books 1 to 5 


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Tove Marika Jansson (b.1914 – d.2001) was born in Helsinki. Hers was a rather bohemian, artistic family: her father was a sculptor, her mother a graphic designer and illustrator, one brother became a photographer and the other, Lars, was an illustrator.


She studied art and graphics at various universities and art schools between 1930 and 1938, and displayed a number of pieces at exhibitions during the early 1940s. Her first solo exhibition was in 1943, followed by several more, with the final one being in 1970. During her career she was also commissioned to create a number of murals and public works. Although she became best known as a writer, she considered her joint careers as writer and artist to be equally important.


As an adult she lived with her lifelong partner, Tuulkki Pietilä, an American-born, Finnish graphic artist and professor. She had a studio in Helsinki but she and Pietilä spent much of their time on the small island of Klovharu.


Her novels and picture books for children, the Moomin stories about a family of white, furry trolls, are what she is best known for, and have received global recognition. They have inspired films, television series, an opera and even theme parks in Finland and Japan. She wrote the first in 1945 when, feeling depressed as a result of the war, she wanted to create something naïve and innocent. The fi al book in the series Moominvalley in November (1970) was written following the death of her mother. After this Jansson felt unable to write any more of these novels, and turned her attention to writing for adults during the remaining thirty years of her life; mainly five novels and five collections of short stories. Some of these have now been translated into English, and have been greeted with great enthusiasm and critical acclaim.


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Tove Jansson


Tove Jansson

© Per Olov Jansson 

Some discussion points:


Within the first five-page chapter the narrative switches from objective observation to Katri’s own voice; later in the book it shifts between Katri’s and Anna’s points of view. How do these changes in† uence your thoughts and understanding of the characters?


How representative were the villagers of any close-knit, rather insular community? Everyone knows everyone else’s business, and is quick to pass judgement. To what extent did their opinions of Katri, Anna and Mats influence your impressions of these characters?


How much does the past affect both the present and the future for the various characters?


To what extent do Katri and Anna deceive themselves as well as each other? What personal insights do they gain as the story develops?


Where is the balance of power in the relationship between the two women? How does this change during the course of the story and how does it affect their relationship?


How much do we learn about Mats’ feelings for his sister, and how did their relationship change when they moved into Anna’s house?


Katri and Anna debate whether there is any such thing as kindness or whether all generosity is ultimately self-serving. Who was the more convincing?


The boat builder/ truck driver, Edvard Liljeberg is an interesting character; he appears to be the only person prepared to help and defend Katri and Mats. What do you think his motives were?



On its publication in 2009 it received very positive critical acclaim, and has continued to do so. From some of the early reviews:


‘Jansson crafts an unsentimental, often mischievous novel of ideas that asks whether it is better to be kind than truthful, especially for an artist.’

Adrian Turpin, Financial Times – 02.11.09


‘Jansson’s texts are always honed to perfection, given a lightness that proves deceptive, an ease of surface which, like ice over a lake, allows you access to something a lot riskier and more profound ... the most beautiful and satisfying novel I have read this year.’

Ursula K Le Guin, The Guardian – 12.12.09


‘This is a very strange novel: brilliant, haunting, wholly memorable. ... The house, the landscape, the cold and the loneliness haunt in the reading and afterwards; their atmosphere and chill linger to intrigue, puzzle and terrify.’

Susan Hill, The Times – 12.12.09


‘... a delightfully dark, winter’s tale ... Parallels between the author’s own artistic struggles and those of Anna’s lend this novel extra allure.’

Emma Hagestadt, The Independent – 06.11.09


‘I loved this book. It’s cool in both senses of the word, understated yet exciting and with a tension that keeps you reading ... when I fi nished it, I read it all over again ... the characters still haunt me.’

Ruth Rendell


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