on 26 March 2009
Beautiful, jewel-like story which somehow creates its own unique world in just 135 generously spaced pages. Moves with great verve from prosaic realism at the start (as Vatanen abandons his bourgeois workaday life and moves increasingly into the wilderness of Finland's icy, forested hinterland) towards a kind of magic at the end as he literally breaks free - with one mighty bound - from the constraints of civilisation. Tempting to talk about 'magic realism' - the thought crossed my mind many times - but it all feels too well grounded, and maybe too funny, for that. Tempting also to call it a kind of fairy tale, but that would suggest a tweeness which the book never has.
The hare itself deserves a mention - a catalyst for Vatanen's change, perhaps a link between the real world and the mystic, but more than that, a real character in its own right for which we quickly share Vatanen's affection. The bear too, and the surprisingly wide cast of supporting characters, are brilliantly drawn.
Like no other book I've ever read, a wonderfully constructed modern fable.
on 5 December 2001
I have a lot of Finish friends, and one day I asked one of them to recommend me a book written by a Finnish. He told me that I should have bought "The Year of the Hare". I did it and I read it in a very few days from cover to cover. I was living a fantastic adventure in the land of my Finish friends with a fantastic leader. He and his hare took me over a part of the Finish culture and nature, and inspired me to follow my instincs a bit more often. If you haven't read this book yet, what are you waiting for? It's a must in your personal library.
on 28 February 2011
A book about a man who tames a wild hare, or a deeper analogy for the stupidity of how we judge our own lives? I didn't hugely care how to interpret this book, it was just a pleasure to read from start to finish. Combining a story which twists and winds its way unpredictably through the Finnish landscape, and a combination of wit, fun, and some serious moments, it's easy to like the main character and his hare and you root for him all the way through.
It's quite hard to describe why this book is so good - it's just beautifully simple and almost innocent. Like a children's book but for adults (there is a modicum of adult-ish content, nothing much though) I suppose. As soon as I finished it I wanted to pick it up and start again.
on 31 March 2014
I recently discovered the Finnish novelist Arto Paasilinna when I happened upon his novel "The Howling Miller", which I found to be very moving and mysterious. "The Year of the Hare" I found to be even more wonderful.
It is the tale of a man, who for various complicated reasons, finds himself protecting a wild hare as he has a series of misadventures. It is so movingly told that I found myself completely absorbed and desperately frightened that the poor hare would meet an unfortunate end, even more than I fretted for the fate of his somewhat flawed, but well meaning, guardian.
This is a novel that I long to re-read and re-read. A little gem.
on 9 April 2010
A journalist wanders around Finland for a year, giving up his job, and taking care of a hare. He has some savings so this is not Jack London being a tramp or "down and out in paris and london". More a sabbatical and a chance to look at things afresh.
Much to my surprise, this really delivers - a series of vignettes, each highly memorable and fully realised - and a different take on life and (the) society (of contemporary Finland).
on 6 October 2010
This is the perfect book to leave beside your guest's bedside as it is less than 140 pages and very easily read in one sitting. For a book first published in Great Britain 15 years ago it is surprising that it has not attracted more acclaim.
Paasilinna spins a very entertaining story around a man, Vatanen, and his hare he saves after being hit by a car. Vatanen gives up his life as a married journalist and spends a year travelling around Finland with the hare. There are numerous incidents which occur but the book has much deeper resonance about many issues and which would benefit from a second reading, something I rarely do. Each chapter has a title and particularly appealing was "The President" which even read alone should encourage most readers to see the wonderful ability Paasilinna has to entertain whilst cutting much deeper into Finnish Life and the real wider world.
on 3 May 2000
I'd been living in Finland for over I year before I read this book. Having explored a lot of Finnish wilds with my Finnish friends I can tell you that this book is wonderful exploraition in the workings of a Finnish mind and genrally about the pace of life in Finland. Reccomended reading for anybody to enjoys the simple things in life and also for those who have anything remotely to do with Finland. POSITIVELY BRILLIANT! HYVÄ SUOMIA! HYVÄ ARTO!
on 6 December 2010
Very short book, too short, I would love to go for another 150 pages of adventure and nature - away of it all.
Beautifully written, highly recommended.
on 29 October 2011
When I saw that this little book was a bestseller in the author's Finnish homeland, that it had been translated into umpteen languages, and that it had even been selected for the UNESCO Collection of Works I thought that I might just be on to a winner.
It all starts so simply. It is late in the day and a journalist and his photographer are driving home across country, They pull up when they hit and injure a young hare. Vatanen, the journalist pursues the hare into the forest. And he doesn't come back. Eventually, the photographer decides the he must leave without him.
Meanwhile, in the forest Vatanen finds the hare, nurses it, and gradually wins its trust. And he makes a decision. To break free of his dull life, his stagnant marriage, and live a simpler life, travelling through the country, picking up casual jobs to fund essentials, and appreciating the world around him.
The writing was simple: plain, clear prose, and short, sharp sentences. The idea seemed simple. But the story wasn't so simple, there was plenty more to come.
Man and hare traveled together, encountering all manner of people. And many different reactions to the hare.
One man goes out of his way to help Vatanen find food for his companion. A woman oohs and aahs. One man is determined to but the hare, another is equally determined to separate man and beast, to uphold the law, to normalise the situation. And a priest fetches his shotgun when he finds droppings in his church ...
Each and every reaction says something about human nature, and human society.
There are adventures too, as the story moves from the realism of the opening to something that I can only describe as picaresque: forest fires, pagan sacrifices, military war games, killer bears and much more.
Living a simple life is not so simple.
Events built to a dramatic conclusion. What did it all mean? I think I know, but I really shouldn't say.
The story moved along nicely, with wit and intelligence ever-present, becoming stranger. The characters were vivid, the places wonderfully evoked. I almost believed in the bond between man and hare, the man maybe replacing the young animals parents, effectively making it a pet.
Almost, but not quite. I can't really explain why but something didn't quite ring true. The hare was too docile, too in thrall to the man, and I don't think I wanted to believe that such a beautiful, secretive, wild animal could be pulled so easily into our human world.
And that might be why The Year of the Hare was always a story I watched rather than a story I could become involved in.
It was a book I could appreciate and admire, but I book I couldn't quite love the way that I thought I might.
This brief novella describes the travels of a disillusioned journalist, Kaarlo Vatanen, and a hare around Finland, calling in, amongst other places, at Heinola, Nilsiä, Ranua, Posio, Rovaniemi, Sodankylä and Sompio, so that a map of the country might have been appropriate.
Vatanan and a colleague hit the young animal when they are driving together on an assignment. When Vatanen goes to find out how badly injured the hare is, his colleague drives off in disgust leaving him to look after the animal. Alexander Parsonage’s wonderful jacket design perfectly evokes the spirit of the book and must have attracted a significant number of readers.
From this slight beginning, the author spins a delightful story that introduces a range of memorable characters, almost all male, and a series of wonderful descriptions of Finnish forests and wildernesses, and Artic wastes as the two spend a year together. Originally written in 1975, this translation by Herbert Lomas was published in 1995. The language is spare and slightly dated, but not to the extent that its impact is lost. The book was chosen for the UNESCO Collection of Representative Works since it represents and reflects values of Finnish culture. The author was born in Kittila, 90 miles north of the Arctic Circle, and clearly loves the vast expanses of this region. This comes across very clearly in his writing. His detailed description of a forest fire and its affect on flora, fauna and humans is especially magnificent.
Vatanen and the author were both born in 1942 and share a number of similar characteristics. Whilst the events described are obviously fabulous, Vatanen comes across as a very authentic character, well equipped to make his way through swamps, restore a ruined house, escape a forest fire, track a bear and drink himself senseless. He is also selfish and lacks commitment but, In the course of the book, develops an emotional bond with the hare and becomes ferocious when anyone seeks to take the animal away, whatever their reasons. Throughout, animals feature strongly – the traditional reindeer, cows, a ravenous raven, a ferocious bear and hares.
The accident, a slight incident in itself, offers Vatanen the opportunity to re-examine his life and make the changes that he always wanted to – once he makes this decision he finds that ‘his senses are newly sharp, his food has a taste it never had before and he is alive as he has never been in his regular life.’ There is fascinating contrast between the magical events of the story and the detached manner in which Vatanen’s life proceeds at each of the stopping points of his journey, perhaps another example of the Finnish character.
Only in the Afterword, after the reader has followed Vatanen tracking a bear across the [then] USSR border and into the hands of the Soviet authorities, does the author offer a broader perspective on his protagonist’s life, and suggests that a hopeful resolution. Fortunately, the Finnish authorities seek Vatanen’s return to answer the 22 separate criminal offences described earlier in the book. Paasilinna encourages the reader to follow Vatanen’s example and step outside one’s comfort zone and determine what is really important before it is too late.
The novella is subdivided into 23 chapters each of which describes an event or place and which might have simply been individual evocative descriptions had the writing not very cleverly strung them together like a pearl necklace. This is partly because the author reins in the humour that might in other hands have flowed from the events described. In one of the most comic scenes, the author contrasts the violence and destruction of the forest fire with the actions of Vatanen and a distiller and drinker of moonshine liquor who take shelter in a river to escape the conflagration. A chapter about Urho Kekkonen, who served as Prime Minister and President between 1950-82, undoubtedly loses much of its humour when read by a reader unable to appreciate his significance in the post-war history and politics of Finland.
Comment is made on the back cover that ‘Paasilinna has been amusing Finns for thirty years and readers in twenty-five years’ and, whilst he certainly amused me he also left me reflecting about this book’s deeper layers. Finally, readers with an aversion to hare faeces should beware since they crop up in the most unlikely places.