Tove Jansson’s “The True Deceiver” July 01, 2010
Jansson’s novel, an understated yet exacting portrait of two women trapped in the relentless winter of a small Scandinavian fishing village, was first published in Swedish in 1982, but NYRB’s edition marks its first English publication. In 2008, NYRB Classics reissued The Summer Book, another of Jansson’s novels.
The True Deceiver, as its title suggests, is interested in dissolving the distinctions between truth and deception, honesty and lies. Writes Maria Margaronis in The Nation, “The uncertainties laid bare go to the heart of human relationships: is there such a thing as kindness, or is all generosity ultimately self-serving? Is truthfulness always honorable, or can it be another form of deceit?”
Theodore McDermott, in The Believer, compares Jansson’s intricately constructed prose to a watch: “All those mechanisms [are] carefully crammed into so small a space, performing their task so unrelentingly… The True Deceiver makes storytelling seem simple by marking the narrative in only the most lucid, concrete sentences.” In its spare, incisive language, he argues, the novel brilliantly cultivates the illusion that Jansson and her characters are somehow connected: “Jansson complicates our willingness to believe that The True Deceiver is strictly fiction, encourages us to consider the novel’s world as being real, and, in doing so, deepens our engagement. I’m thinking that this is a stunning novel, a fiction that becomes, through Jansson’s efficient precision, a true deception.”
Margaronis and McDermott are intrigued and compelled by The True Deceiver, and both regard it as a deeply significant work of deliberate uncertainty. Jansson’s novel, they agree, is as relentlessly thought-provoking as it is poignant, eloquent.