The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson – #TOVE100

True Deceiver

I am reading The True Deceiver as part of my #TOVE100 Reading Challenge.

This is the first of Tove Jansson’s novels I have read that flows like a single story, her A Winter Book and The Summer Book read like vignettes, not driven so much by plot, more focused on the characters that inhabited their pages, their environment and various encounters that carried them through the season.

The seasons are ever present in all her work and in The True Deceiver, we meet the characters snow-bound in winter, waiting for the thaw of spring. This passage of time will thaw the surroundings and to a certain degree the characters as they undergo a transformation due to the events that follow.

“It was an ordinary dark winter morning, and snow was still falling. No window in the village showed a light.”

The True Deceiver is the story of an aging woman artist Anna Aemelin who lives alone on the outskirts of small village, snow bound as the opening pages reveal its stillness and propensity for chatter within. Anna keeps to herself and is content that way, her post and necessary supplies are delivered, there is minimal disruption to her way of life and the inspiration that feeds her artistic leanings, which awaken with the Spring and her venturing into the woodland beyond her home.

She often receives correspondence from fans, her art depicts realistic portrayals of the forest floor, disturbed only by the presence of her not so life-like animated rabbits, for which she is world-renowned, especially among the younger generation.

Tove Jansson © Moomin Characters™

Tove Jansson
© Moomin Characters™

As Boel Westin notes in Tove Jansson Life, Art, Words: The Authorised Biography, Jansson often writes herself into her fiction:

“Sometimes unconcealed, freely, openly, sometimes hidden behind various names and disguises…traces of Tove Jansson run hither and thither in all her texts and pictures, and the patterns they form are constantly new” Boel Westin

One of the villagers, Katri Krill, known to all as being good with numbers, one who can sniff out the slightest hint of corruption or exploitation, dreams of financial security for herself and her brother Mats. Despite her trustworthiness, her sudden interest in the aging artist sets tongues wagging in the village, as she takes over more and more of Anna’s business affairs, bringing her out of an oblivious state of denial regarding her situation, an interference that is both appreciated and resented equally.

“Now don’t take this the wrong way, Miss Kling, but I find your way of never saying what a person expects you to say, I find it somehow appealing. In you, there’s no, if you’ll pardon my saying so, no trace of what people call politeness… And politeness can sometimes be almost a kind of deceit, can it not? Do you know what I mean?”

When Katri takes over the letter writing activity to Anna’s child fans, the artist is appalled to learn how business like and impersonal her responses are, it might take less time, but it is not her style at all and she lets her know exactly how it should be:

“And what about this one? Anna went on. “Where’s the chitchat? He’s tried to draw a rabbit – obviously no talent at all – so here you could write something like ‘I’ve hung your picture above my desk’… This one’s learning to skate, and her cat’s name is Topsy. You can fill nearly a whole page with the skating and the cat if you write big enough. You’re not using the material.”

TOVE 100 © Moomin Characters™

TOVE 100
© Moomin Characters™

It is as though Tove Jansson is arguing with herself, Katri is like her alter ego and Anna resists embracing what she knows should be done, it undermines her integrity as an artist, she resents all the questions relating to the ugly business of merchandising that has grown like a malignant tumour out of her artwork; people take these things on, come up with ideas that have nothing to do with her work or her characters and their inclinations and want to do things with them, that in her imagination she knows they would never do. Katri tries to get her to detach from them, trying to convince her that she will never see these manifestations of her work, she should see them purely as a source of income, but Anna will not compromise, the artist’s integrity is not for sale.

Who is the true deceiver? Perhaps everyone has something of the deceiver in them, the truth can be brutal, kindness can be deceptive, secondary agendas can lie behind them both. The True Deceiver is Tove Jansson at her best, struggling and yet persevering to put into story form, the battle of those two states of mind, objectivity and aesthetic sensibility, constantly at war with each other, unlikely companions just as Anna and Katri, the rabbits and the dog.

Brilliantly evocative of the artistic struggle, it is a story that invites discussion and keeps the reader thinking long after that last page is turned. And wondering what those rabbits might have looked like, Moomins perhaps?

Highly Recommended.




Tove Jansson Anniversary 100 years #TOVE100

TOVE 100 © Moomin Characters™

TOVE 100
© Moomin Characters™

2014 is TOVE100, 100 years since the birth of the Finnish artist and writer Tove Marika Jansson.

I have read a few of her books (the adult books translated by Thomas Teal), discovering her about a year ago and I have become a little obsessed with her work since then.

To celebrate her 100 years, I plan to read a few more books by or about Tove Jansson and invite you to join me if you wish.

Books Read

A Winter Booksee my review here

A quiet, honest collection of stories, containing evocative black and white photos that add to the atmosphere the author evokes making the reader experience life on the island and all its challenges, right up to the final story, Taking Leave, the last visit, when the nets have become too heavy to pull, the boat too difficult to handle, the sea too unpredictable for two aging women.

The Summer Booksee my review here

An elderly artist and her six-year-old grand-daughter spend a summer on an island in the gulf of Finland. Gradually, the two learn to adjust to each other’s fears, whims and desire for independence, coming to an understanding, teaching each other something along the way.

The True DeceiverSee my review here 

An aging women artist living alone on the outskirts of a village is befriended by a younger woman, who after faking a break-in moves in with her brother, allegedly to provide companionship. It is a relationship that peels back the layers of both women, bringing their inclinations and bugbears to the surface, a face-off between truth and kindness, both containing elements of deception.

Art in Nature – See my review here

Sculptors daughterStill To Read

The Sculptor’s Daughter by Tove Jansson

Fair Play by Tove Jansson

Tove Jansson Life, Art, Words: The Authorised Biography, Written by Boel Westin, Translated by Silvester Mazzarella

The Moomintroll Books

Tove Jansson with her brother Per Olov © Moomin Characters™

Tove Jansson with her brother Per Olov
© Moomin Characters™

She wrote and illustrated children’s books and later in life began to write for adults as well. She was close to nature and spent nearly every summer on a family island in the Pellinge archipelago, in the Gulf of Finland, an environment that features often in A Winter Book and The Summer Book.

Born on 9 August 1914 to a family of artists, her mother was a graphic designer and her father a sculptor. An artist before anything, she was multi-talented, painting, illustrating and writing, not confined to any one genre. Her first book for adults was part fiction, part memoir, The Sculptor’s Daughter, written 10 years after her father’s death.

Although I admit to never having read any of them, she is most well-known for nine children’s books that grew out of her family of characters, little white trolls living in Moominvalley named Moomintroll, Moominmamma and Moominpappa along with other creative creatures such as the Hattifatteners, Mymbles and Whompers. She also illustrated other classic children’s books including versions of Alice in Wonderland and The Hobbit.

Tove Jansson and Her Moomintrolls © Moomin Characters™

Tove Jansson and Her Moomintrolls
© Moomin Characters™

Her career started early, drawing for a liberal satire magazine Garm at the age of 15, the title where her large nosed character Moomintroll made its first appearance. I think she may have been filling in for her mother, based on a comment I read in The New Yorker, but I’ll find out more when I read the biography. Her first book Sara and Pelle and the Octopuses of the Water Sprite – was published when she was just 13.

Her books have been translated into more than 40 languages, making her one of the most well-known Finnish artists, remembered by many from their own childhood and continuing to gain new audiences today.

“I didn’t realise it was set in a real place. I thought she’d made Finland up. Finland was like Narnia, with these incredible characters that were so strange but instantly recognisable because you had met lots of them – noisy Hemulens or neurotic, skinny Fillijonks.” Frank Cottrell Boyce


There are numerous events happening worldwide and the national gallery of Finland, Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki is holding an exhibition of all oeuvres of Jansson’s career, her surrealistic paintings of the 1930s, modernist art of the 1950s and more abstract works in the 1960s and ’70s, as well as her satirical anti-war illustrations for the magazine Garm, her murals created for public spaces, and illustrations of her Moomin characters and stories. I’m unlikely to make it to Helsinki, but was pleased to discover the audio presentations linked below, 2 minute descriptions (in English) of 12 of her paintings which you can view while listening.

Further Reading, Listening

Two Minute Audio Descriptions of 12 of her Paintings, via the Finnish Art Museum, Ateneum

TOVE100 – website with events happening internationally, resources

The Hands That Made the Moomins – An article in the New Yorker


Have you read any of Tove Jansson’s books? Are you planning to read any of them this year?