June 2010
A review of

The True Deceiver

by Tove Jansson

Central question: Can a character conspire with an author to deceive a reader?
Obligatory plot summary: An unemployed outcast insinuates her way into the life and home of a successful children’s book illustrator so that she can filch enough money to build the ship her brother has been meticulously designing; she succeeds, but at great cost; On the author: She wrote and illustrated a popular series of children’s books and a comic strip about a family of trolls called the Moomins; she once refused a company’s request to print her character Little My on “a discrete new mini sanitary towel”; Representative sentence: “The truth needs to be hammered in with iron spikes, but no one can drive nails into a mattress!”

I am thinking about a watch and all those mechanisms carefully crammed into so small a space, performing their exacting task so unrelentingly. As a watch makes timekeeping seem trivial by simply marking discrete seconds, The True Deceiver makes storytelling seem simple by marking the narrative in only the most lucid, concrete sentences: “And by and by came winter.” But as this narrative ticks forward, it becomes evident that a book of almost inscrutable intricacy is being built from so many simple, separate components gradually enmeshing. I’m thinking about Anna’s exactingly detailed paintings of the forest floor and Mats’s meticulous ship designs and Katri’s uncanny ability to impersonate and, yes, Tove Jansson’s clinically clean prose.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please purchase a copy of the magazine from The McSweeney’s Store.

—Theodore McDermott

Theodore McDermott’s fiction and nonfiction have appeared in various publications, and he is working on a novel.

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