Finnish author Arto Paasilinna is a very productive author and very popular in Finland, and his books have been widely translated (only 2 into English, however). His novels are fast-paced, light and very humorous in style, and several are adventuresqe stories with a satirical angle, modern fables almost. The Year of the Hare belongs to this category. It is a strange, lovely, imaginative novel about an ex-journalist who is disgusted by the emptiness and meaninglessness of modern consumer society, and therefore sets out on a quest for “authentic life”. Which – as we all know – is something you find deep in the Finnish backwoods?
The main character is Kaarlo Vatanen. While driving on a country road, he hits a hare. Leaving his car and a colleague sitting within, Vatanen goes chasing the hare, finds it, and in a fit of guilt he decides to take to the wilds of Finland with the hare for company.
And what a journey he makes! There are strange adventures, unlikely events, and disasters aplenty in this book: arrest for possession of a hare; lots of heavy drinking; and a bear hunt; a chase into the Soviet Union, prison, and more. One wild and hilarious story follows another! The adventures show Vatanen and the hare much about the world they live in – about people’s avarice, about lacking humaneness, hypocrisy, cruelty, the evils of bureaucracy, and how many merely exist rather than live. It is a cruel awakening for Vatanen.
This a fabulously weird novel – somewhat like the remarkable Aleksis Kivi novel Seven Brothers, but an adventure of the kind you would probably expect to find in a Latin American novel, written by authors such as García Márquez or Paulo Coelho, rather than in a Finnish novel written in a very low-key, minimalist, factual style. The Year of the Hare is a book about a middle aged man’s crisis, a tale of breaking lose, about freedom, about the importance of happiness, and a tale of a wonderful, different, original adventure. The book is a little slow in the start, but it very soon picks up. A light, very enjoyable and very interesting read!