The Panda Theory – Pascal Garnier (2008, trans. Gallic Books 2012, 143 pages)
This is the first Pascal Garnier I’ve read, and while I’ve heard he can be a bit read-one-read-them-all, I enjoyed this quick, noir read.
Gabriel arrives in a Breton town and begins to get to know the locals, without revealing very much about himself or why he is there.
“a completely nondescript town…the sea was far away, its presence unimaginable. There was nothing picturesque here.”
Jose owns the local bar and is struggling while his wife Marie is in hospital. Gabriel can cook and so takes on this domestic duty while Jose flounders.
“With his elbows on the table, Jose hoovered up his meal. The tomato sauce ran from the corners of his mouth, to his chin and down his neck. Like an ogre.”
Gabriel wins the titular stuffed toy on the shooting range at the fair, and gives it to Jose for his children, but it stays in the bar, its impassive gaze surveying the customers, arms outstretched.
Gabriel attracts the interest of lonely, cat-obsessed Madeleine, and befriends lonely drug-addict Rita.
“ ‘I love you, Gabriel. It’s stupid but it’s true.’
The blind man turned a corner. The sound of his stick gradually faded away before disappearing completely. The town lay still, bathing in dreams in which everybody was a hero. He had to sleep. Sleep.
‘I’m going back to the hotel, Madeleine. It’s late.’
She’d never been as beautiful as she was then. Much more beautiful than her geranium.”
Gradually we learn about Gabriel’s family and why his wife and children are no longer with him. It also emerges why he is in the town and what his purpose is. The Panda Theory doesn’t hold any great surprises but it’s a well-paced, atmospheric tale that builds effectively to its conclusion. I would happily read more by Garnier, even if it is more of the same.