Winner of the 2011 Best Translated Book Award
Translated from Swedish by Thomas Teal
Katri, an orphan, left to care for her younger brother Mats, is stalking out her prey. It’s not an inappropriate metaphor for Katri likes to think herself wolfish. She owns a wolf-hound with yellow eyes. Eyes that match her own. Eyes that she opens wide to disconcert those intrude; a habit that sends shivers down my back whenever she does so. Her brother, Mats, is on the slow side. All he has ever wanted is to own his own boat. Katri, who loves her brother more than a wolf should, is a sister with a mission. Mats will get his boat one way or the other.
That’s where she lives. Mats and I will live there too. But I have to wait. I need to think carefully before I give this Anna Aemelin an important place in my life.
Anna Aemelin is a writer and illustrator of children’s books. So successful are her books, full of realistic forest scenes overrun with cutesy bunnies, that she has no financial worries at all. She can afford to sleep throughout the winter, waiting for the ground to thaw and her artistic life to resume. Her wealth is what draws Katri’s attention to her.
So what happens when the wolf inveigles her way into the rabbit’s warren, so to speak? No details here, but I will say that the “game” is not as one-sided as you would imagine. While Anna Aemelin appears clueless and falls right into the trap that Katri’s meticulous planning sets for her, that trap is not criminal. (Reprehensible certainly, but not prosecutable.) Nor does Katri come out on the other side unscathed. The good intentions of Anna Aemelin cause her to lose something that is very precious.
I’m being deliberately vague because I don’t want to spoil the subtlety of Jansson’s novel. It is written in such clear precise prose that there’s nothing to doubt. It is as it’s playing, surely? But it turns out that there are deceptions on many levels here: Katri’s on Anna Aemelin, Anna Aemelin on the children who write her books. But Jansson reserves the most effective sleight of hand for herself. Just when she’s lulled you into a sense that nothing untoward is happening here ……