Deception—the lies we tell ourselves and the lies we tell others—is the subject of this, Tove Jansson’s most unnerving and unpredictable novel. Here Jansson takes a darker look at the subjects that animate the best of her work, from her sensitive tale of island life, The Summer Book, to her famous Moomin stories: solitude and community, art and life, love and hate.
Snow has been falling on the village all winter long. It covers windows and piles up in front of doors. The sun rises late and sets early, and even during the day there is little to do but trade tales. This year everybody’s talking about Katri Kling and Anna Aemelin. Katri is a yellow-eyed outcast who lives with her simpleminded brother and a dog she refuses to name. She has no use for the white lies that smooth social intercourse, and she can see straight to the core of any problem. Anna, an elderly children’s book illustrator, appears to be Katri’s opposite: a respected member of the village, if an aloof one. Anna lives in a large empty house, venturing out in the spring to paint exquisitely detailed forest scenes. But Anna has something Katri wants, and to get it Katri will take control of Anna’s life and livelihood. By the time spring arrives, the two women are caught in a conflict of ideals that threatens to strip them of their most cherished illusions.
Originally published in 1982, this novel by Finnish writer Jansson (1914 2001) examines desire and deception among residents of a remote snowbound village. Known as the witch by the local children (and equally unpopular with their parents), black-haired, brutally honest Katri Kling cares only about her younger brother, Mats, whom the villagers consider slow. She keeps her distance from everyone else, aided by her unnamed German shepherd and her rejection of small talk. Meanwhile, Anna Aemelin, a reclusive and well-to-do children's book artist, occupies the largest house in the village the town's only semblance of aristocracy painting watercolors of flower-furred rabbits and reading adventure stories. In the hope of securing a future for Mats, Katri slowly but deliberately insinuates herself into Anna's solitary life, moving in before long and rousing the suspicion and jealousy of the townspeople. The strident battle of wills that ensues makes for an intimate portrait of two disparate outsiders; Jansson's keen insight into her characters' inner worlds will keep readers rooting for a proverbial (and literal) thaw.