Reading: Tove Jansson

I adored Tove Jansson’s Moomin books, in their distinctive and terribly British Puffin editions, as a child. See my post on my Snork Maiden cup. Jansson was also a painter, illustrator, and writer of books for adults; the best known seems to be The Summer BookThe True Deceiver is instead a winter book; the small seaside town is snowed in, deeper and deeper; it’s night all the time  in Finland, the wind blows hard, it’s a trudge to get anywhere. Trash is dragged out on the ice to wait till the thaw will send it under the water, and the forest floor, the subject of Anna Aemelin’s art, appears dead. The title character, Katri Kling, moves in on Anna, the local celebrity because of her popular children’s books, using her frosty, mathematical objectivity and apparent perfect honesty to glean the money she’ll need to buy a boat for her younger brother, Mats.  What does it mean to be honest?  What is truth, even, and what’s it good for?  What are its limits?

From The True Deceiver, Tove Jansson, trans. Thomas Teal (another NYRB title):

Katri’s advice was widely discussed in the village and struck people as correct and very astute. What made it so effective, perhaps, was that she worked on the assumption that every household was naturally hostile towards its neighbors. But people’s sessions with Katri were often followed by an odd sense of shame, which was hard to understand, since she was always fair. Take the case of two families who had been looking sideways at each other for years. Katri helped both save face, but she also articulated their hostility and so fixed it in place for all time. She also helped people to see that they’d been cheated.

p 29

I had not realized that Jansson, though she was of Swedish descent and wrote in Swedish, was actually Finnish by birth.


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