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The Year of the Hare

by Arto Paasilinna

Vatanen, a journalist, and his photographer colleague are driving through the Finnish countryside at the end of a long assignment when they run over a young hare. Vatanen is compelled to look for the poor creature and when he disappears into the forest to go to its rescue his irascible colleague abandons him. He finds the animal, binds its broken leg and they instantly form an attachment. As he tends to the injured creature, it becomes clear to Vatanen that he canít go back to his job, his boring middle-class life and his loveless marriage. He takes the hare, heads back to town, sorts out his finances, chucks his job, ditches his wife and he and the hare begin an adventure of Homeric proportions.

Vatanen survives by taking on odd jobs repairing holiday lodges, forestry work and such like where he meets up with a motley cast of characters. The story gallops from one outrageous episode to the next with hardly a pause for breath, culminating in a chase over the Russian border with a recalcitrant bear with whom Vatanen has a score to settle. Throughout these escapades the hare is his constant companion. And what of the hare, the catalyst for Vatanenís change? He is a character in his own right who isnít given a name or (mercifully) anthropomorphised in any way and with whom the reader, like Vatanen, completely adores. (One could go all new-agey and make comparisons to the hare in folklore and mythology where it is associated with the Moon, the celestial skies and the sun, with fertility, the dawn, cunning and bravery etc. etc. but I think it belongs more in the Lewis Carroll Ďmadí variety).

Itís hard to categorise this sometimes very funny, sometimes moving book. Itís an extreme mid-life crisis mingled with folklore, fantasy and a wonderful sense of place - though with all books in translation the reader just feels (unsurprisingly) that something is missing. This should not put anyone off though, itís a great read and the fact that it has been translated into many languages, filmed twice and dramatised for the stage is testimony to its uniqueness. Like the hare itself, itís a bit mad and a bit beautiful.

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