The Panda Theory
by Pascal Garnier
This excellent novella begins and ends at the train station of a small anonymous Breton town where “a faint odour of manure hangs in the air” - a portent perhaps of things to come. Gabriel arrives on a dreary Sunday and pitches up at the local hotel. Madeleine, the hotel’s rather fed-up receptionist (who would rather be scuba diving in Guadeloupe) suggests that he finds something to eat at the Faro, a local café run by José. José’s wife is in a coma and he is distraught, trying to care for his children (badly) while running back and forth to the hospital. Then along comes the mysterious Gabriel who takes charge, starts to cook for the café and sort out the mess when customers such as Marie, used and abused by her druggie boyfriend Marc, appear to need help. He is, indeed, their guardian angel.
But who is Gabriel? From the off we know that he has a past but he doesn’t talk about it or say why he has come to be in this particular place. He soon wins over his new friends with his wonderful cooking and caring nature. A toy panda that he wins at the local fun fair takes precedence in a corner of the café - an all-seeing, omnipresent talisman. A bit like the man himself.
This wonderfully warm, sad, humorous (and brilliantly translated) story takes a bit of a dark turn but I’m not giving anything away. The reader senses from the outset that the end will be an unhappy one.
Published by Gallic – 143pp
Pascal Garnier died in March 2010. He was a talented novelist, short story writer, children's author and painter. Though his writing is often very dark in tone, it sparkles with quirkily beautiful imagery and dry wit. Garnier's work has been likened to the great thriller writer, Georges Simenon.