Book Review: The Year Of The Hare

By Paula Green

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The Year Of The Hare by Arto Paasilinna
Text Publishing $30

Book cover of The Year Of The Hare by  Arto Paasilinna. Photo / Supplied
Book cover of The Year Of The Hare by Arto Paasilinna. Photo / Supplied

Finnish author Arto Paasilinna has published 35 novels and has been translated in 27 languages. The Year Of The Hare, originally published in 1975, has gone on to sell millions of copies in 18 languages and as two feature films.

This cult book is another example of Text Publishing bringing award-winning international books to the attention of Australia and New Zealand. It is worth checking out their backlist and recent releases.

The Year Of The Hare is an entertaining mix of fable, farce, mid-life crisis and road book. It is a fable of freedom, commitment and survival. It is series of comic bungles and misadventures.

A photographer and a journalist are driving home when they accidentally hit a young hare. Vatanen goes into the forest to search for the injured animal and does not return, so the impatient photographer abandons him.

Vatanen is at a crossroads. It's back to a marriage of mutual loathing and employment that no longer satisfies him or forward to the allure of the mysterious opposite direction.

He turns his back on days regimented by routine and savours days that are a delicious clean slate.

You can find traces of serious ideas, as befits a fable. The story reveals the way caring for something or someone else can lead to the redemption of a disenchanted self. Vatanen mends the hare as he sets out to mend himself in the great outdoors and the little villages.

Seriousness, however, always gives way to comic moments. Vatanen goes to the Game Preservation Office to find out what to feed a wild hare. The officer tries to draw and paint the plants the hare will like, and then tells Vatanen the thick and ungainly lines need to be thinned "down a bit mentally".

When the hare runs loose in a church, the panicking pastor accidentally shoots Christ in the kneecap, then shoots himself in the foot. Somehow, with a bit of Vatanen ingenuity, the pastor manages to carry out the marriage ceremony expected of him.

Part of the pleasure of freedom is not doing what is expected of you; doing the unexpected. Vatanen helps a cow give birth, gets blind drunk on local moonshine when he is supposed to help put out the major forest fire and gets arrested for trying to call a cab. It is not just the physical labour and fresh air that sharpen his appetite. It is the fact that he is away from the drone of politics and the temptations of big-city mayhem. Breakfast is now to be relished.

Paasilinna has created a catalogue of mishaps that are seen as misdemeanours that are then seen as the little adventures that re-glue the man. If this is a mid-life crisis it most definitely needs the hare.

Hare and man do whatever it takes to stay together and this enduring bond adds to both the comic moments and the serious undertow. An entertaining read.

Paula Green is an Auckland poet and children's author.

- NZ Herald

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