Katri Kling lives with an unfriendly, unnamed German Shepherd and her brother, Mats. They are the town weirdos—children throw snowballs at their windows and scream “witch” at Katri. There is something affably off about Mats (autistic?), but Katri is good with numbers and money (if not people) and supports both of them by working as an accountant in the shop they live above. On the far outskirts of town (and in the winter, piled down with Finnish snow, “far” means something), a successful old illustrator of children’s books, Anna, lives by herself in the house she was raised in. Katri knows what she wants from Anna and has a plan about how to get it; Anna doesn’t know that she wants anything out of anyone, including herself, until she is facing what she decidedly doesn’t want.
It’s a deceptively simple plot, and a small book, but I understand why the NYRB brought it back and why so many people rave about it. Jansson manages a deep distrust about everything from rabbits to royalties so that by the midway point of the book I was ready for ax murderers or, just as horrifying, a strategic loosing of a shred of minor information that Katri knows will unbalance Anna. This consumed me: while the book is written primarily in the omniscient third-person voice, every so often, without quotation marks or chapter breaks or anything, Katri is speaking in first-person.
I, Katri Kling, often lie awake at night, thinking. As night thoughts go, mine are no doubt unusually practical. Mostly I think about money, lots of money, getting it quickly and taking it wisely and honestly, so much money that I won’t need to think about money any more.
The slips into her voice are so smooth that I spent the whole book wondering if it really was a third-person I was hearing from, or if I was supposed to think that Katri herself was writing the book I was reading. I wanted a little bit more from the ending, but the further I get from my reading, the more I understand where she left it.
This was my second NYRB book (Stoner was the first), and again, what a lovely aesthetic experience. The cover has an eggshell glow and a slightly chalky feel, sharp edges, the NYRB lozenge on the spine, great fonts, and color design (both inside and outside the cover) that I can recognize, as a total idiot in such matters, is thoughtful and skilled. The Jansson was a library book, but I want to own books in this series, have them to pick up and feel. [It’s so nice when the internet hands you exactly what you are searching for: an appreciation of the design (with picture of a stack of them).]