The Year of the Hare – Arto Paasilinna (1975, trans. Herbert Lomas 1995) 135 pages
Following on from The Cat yesterday, I thought I’d look at another novella about a relationship with an animal today; the international bestseller about a man who leaves his life behind after injuring a wild hare.
Vatanen is a journalist deeply unhappy with his career, metropolitan life, and his marriage.
“Their flat had become an extravagant farrago of shallow and meretricious interior-decoration tips from women’s magazines. A pseudo-radicalism governed the design, with huge posters and clumsy modularised furniture. It was difficult to inhabit the rooms without injury; all items were at odds. The home was distinctly reminiscent of Vatanen’s marriage.”
The novel opens with him in a car with his photographer, hitting a hare with their car. The hare limps off and Vatanen follows it. He splints its leg and takes care of it, deciding never to return to his life.
What follows is a series of episodes in which Vanaten meets various eccentric characters as he travels further north in Finland, having adventures and finding the presence of the hare promotes honest and open conversations with people.
“If it’s difficult to teach an old dog to sit, as they say, then it’s even more difficult to teach an old Lapland roue to swim.”
The Year of the Hare is picaresque, and the emphasis is on the escapades rather than the characters. I didn’t feel I really knew Vananten any better by the end of the novella, but it had been mostly fun spending time with him and the hare.
I say mostly, because there were a couple of episodes I had to skip. These involved cruelty to animals. There was one particularly horrible incident where Vatanen tortures a raven, and there’s an extended bear hunt towards the end. But skipping over these parts still left a lot to enjoy, and the sense of Finland and its landscape is beautifully evoked.
“When, that evening, Vatanen slowly ski’d back from Vittumainen Ghyll to Laahkima Gorge, accompanied by his hare, he no longer thought about Kaartinen’s strange world. There was a half-moon, and the stars were glimmering faintly in the frozen evening. He had his own world, this one, and it was fine to be here, living alone in one’s own way. The hare ambled silently along the trail ahead of the skier, like a pathfinder. Vatanen sang to it.”
A slightly bonkers, occasionally surreal tale about following your own path and keeping an open mind as to who might accompany you part of the way.
The Year of the Hare was made into a film two years after publication, but I can’t find a trailer for that Finnish version. Its been a bestseller in France, so here is a trailer for the French film adaptation from 2006. Christophe Lambert is immediately too likeable as Vatanen but the atmosphere and scenery look spot-on: