It is the dead of a Finnish winter in a small village. A young woman, Katri, wants to fulfill her brother’s dream of building a boat and escaping out to sea. Unfortunately her only possession is a stoic dog with no name. She sets her sights on Anna Amelia, an illustrator of children’s books who lives in a cottage dubbed “the rabbit house.”
If this brief plot description of The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson sounds a bit like a fable from a children’s book, you wouldn’t be far off the mark. The author was an internationally known creator of illustrated chapter books for children. Her creations, the Moomins, earned her fame and a steady income for life. This odd and fascinating little book, however, is definitely for adults.
As Katri attempts to extort funds from Anna, the book becomes a battle of wits between the two. Much more than money is at stake, though. As the title suggests, this book is all about deception and its justification. During an argument over how to reply to fan letters, Anna states that children are innocent and can’t be fooled by false responses. Katri replies:
You sentimentalize them because they’re little. But the format doesn’t matter. I have gradually learned that everyone, absolutely everyone of every size, is out to get something. People want things. It comes to them naturally. Of course they get more skilful with age, and they’re no longer so disarmingly obvious, but the goal doesn’t change. Your children simply haven’t had time to learn how it’s done. That’s what we call innocence.
Don’t think the argument is all one-sided, though. Anna definitely gives as good as she gets. In the end it is very much up to the reader to decide who is truly taken advantage of both financially and morally.
The True Deceiver is a truly unique book and well-worth your reading time. Just don’t expect anyone to live happily ever after.