Monday, February 21, 2011

Book #9: The Year of the Hare

The Finnish writer Arto Paasilinna's The Year of the Hare has got to be one of the most absurdly amusing things I've read in quite some time. The novel, originally published in 1975 but only translated into English in 1995, starts off normal enough for a novel: Vatanen, a newspaper writer, is headed back home with his photographer partner when the pair hit a hare in their vehicle. Vatanen gets out to see about the hare, and in the few moments in which he realizes that he is responsible for the hare's broken leg, he decides to entirely abandon the joyless, constricted life he'd been leading in Helsinki.

What follows is something of a migrant tale, in which Vatanen and his hare go from place to place as they please, seeking solitude in nature and finding odd physical-labor jobs along the way. At first they seem only to encounter people as enchanted with the hare as Vatanen is. The longer Vatanen sets himself apart from "normal" society, however, the more extreme both he and society seem to become. Pretty soon what started as something of a Thoreau-like retreat from modernity turns into something very like madness, complete with troubled encounters with authority and fixations on wild animals.

I will surely be thinking about this book for quite some time, trying to figure out exactly what happens at the end and just who Vatanen might be. Paasilinna's narrative style is mostly sparse, making the chapters quick and self-contained with occasional moments of confusion. The humor is strongly there throughout, eventually souring just a bit into darkness. I'd suggest this book to readers looking for something out of the ordinary, those who enjoy a bit of the absurd in their literature, and those interested in novels in translation.

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