Run, Rabbit, Run!

Those of you out there who (like me) are edging ever closer to forty, may, from time to time, ponder the form your inevitable mid-life crisis will take.  Will you blow your savings and splash out on a Lamborghini?  Will you ditch your partner and run off with a pneumatic, barely-post-pubescent stunner?  Or, more interestingly, perhaps you’ll pick up an injured animal and hitch-hike up to the Arctic Circle…

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Before you all have me carted off in a white coat, I am (of course) referring to the events of today’s offering, Finnish writer Arto Paasilinna’s excellent novel, The Year of the Hare (translated by Herbert Lomas), a book I first came across in the review Ann Morgan wrote in her fascinating blog, A Year of Reading the World.  The story is about Karolo Vatanen, a jaded, middle-aged journalist who hates his job, his wife and just about everything else in his life.  When the van he’s driving home in hits a hare crossing the road, Vatanen gets out, picks the poor animal up and puts a splint on its leg.  He then pauses, glances at the van and decides to walk off into the woods.  He never looks back.

What follows is less a description of a mid-life crisis than a rejection of modern society and a return to older, simpler times.  Vatanen travels around with his new friend, taking on manual labour jobs as he penetrates further and further into Finland’s untamed wilds.  Most of the people he meets, while initially suspicious (and a little confused by the presence of the hare), end up helping him by giving him food, accommodation, transport or a job to keep him going.
Compared to some of the people he encounters though, Vatanen’s eccentricities seem positively harmless.  As he meanders northwards, he comes across a retired police chief with a monomania about the Finnish president, a gun-toting vicar who doesn’t appreciate animals in church, a cow in a very sticky situation, a heathen with a penchant for sacrificing defenceless animals – in this company, a man with a hare’s ears sticking out of his backpack barely warrants a second glance…
The further Vatanen travels into the wilderness, the better things become.  The work he picks up (repairing cabins, herding cows, clearing trees) does wonders for his health and physical fitness, but the real benefit is to his soul.  Away from civilisation, he feels more alive and at peace with himself.  It’s no coincidence that his bad days tend to coincide with incursions from the society he has decided to leave behind.
The Year of the Hare is an excellent story, a novel you can knock off in a couple of hours, but one which leaves a deeper impression than this would suggest.  Initially, I was a little sceptical about the translation, particularly the dialogue, peppered as it was with unusual linguistic choices (‘a lark’, ‘goodness gracious’, ‘skedaddled’) which, however true they were to the original, seemed oddly out of place.  Once I’d got a bit further into the book though, I no longer noticed this, drawn onward and upward as I was by the compelling story.
It’s tempting to think of The Year of the Hare as a bit of a fairy tale, particularly after reading some of the more far-fetched events of the final quarter of the book.  However, I suspect that someone more versed in Finnish culture than I am (i.e. anyone with any concept of Finnish culture at all) may read this book in a different light.  There’s the faintest of suspicions that with his poking of fun at the Finnish president, and the list of crimes that Vatanen is supposed to have committed (many of which hardly seem like crimes at all), Paasilinna may have been subtly criticising the rigid social constraints in his homeland.  Then again…
But, I sense you all asking, what about the hare?  What happens to him?  Unfortunately, I’ll have to disappoint you – after all, I’m not about to give away the whole plot.  One thing I will say though is that our furry friend is an integral part of the book, not a passing character who disappears into the forest thirty pages into the novel.  He’s not a very chatty character (this is not Watership Down!), but he does get into a lot of scrapes – just like his new master…

16 thoughts on “Run, Rabbit, Run!

  1. Ann – Thanks for bringing it to my attention 🙂 I've already heard from a few French speakers that Paasilinna is much more well-known in that language. As usual, English is lagging behind when it comes to translations of his work…

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  2. I see this one has the same themes as Petit suicide entre amis. They organize a road trip to commit suicide in Norway.

    He IS making fun of his country in hilarious ways.
    I'll read this one too, it seems fun and at the same time hitting serious topics.

    Emma

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  3. Emma – As a French speaker, I think you have a lot more access to his books than English speakers. I know Seraillon said that some weren't available in English…

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  4. Oh dear,I clicked on this one thinking you had reviewed Run, Rabbit, Run by John Updike and i wanted to see what you thought, but in the back of my mind I was thinking Run, Rabbit, Run isn't Tony's type of thing! I'm still chuckling about it but you have me intrigued about The Year of the Hare. I love hearing about books by accident like this, thank you Tony.

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  5. Danielle – No worries 🙂 I actually did read 'Rabbit, Run' last year, but unfortunately it fell in the middle of an illness/injury-induced non-blogging period, so I never quite got around to reviewing it. I quite liked it, but you're right – my preferences lie elsewhere 😉

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  6. I read this quite recently and really enjoyed it, afterwards I picked up a copy of Not Before Sundown by Johanna Sinisalo which I'm sure you'd enjoy too!.

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  7. Thank you Tony for putting me onto your blog. So many lovely blogs I haven't met yet. Love your review of this book. I think you're absolutely right. Your take on the translation is interesting. I didn't notice the skedaddle as being out of place but I guess growing up in the midwest of the USA I heard that a lot and it just didn't stand out. I think I was just too focused worrying about the welfare of this hare. I really am not good w/ animals as main characters in books. Cheers, Pam

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