Last year sometime I read and reviewed The Howling Miller. I enjoyed it so much I wanted to read something else by Paasilinna, a Finnish author. His books are more light hearted with a dark humour about them. Something I tend to lack in the books I read.
This is the only other book of his translated into English and so I didn’t really have too much of a choice. Ultimately, I enjoyed it but I did not find it as interesting or absorbing as The Howling Miller. I never felt as if I got to know the main character at all. He felt a little faceless, just a man fed up of his present life.
It is the story of a man who rescues a hare after his friend accidentally runs it over. After he goes off into the woods to find it his so called friend drives off, leaving Vatanen alone in the forest, holding a baby hare. Deciding he is fed up of his life as a journalist, fed up of having to put up with his wife and having to put up with his friends, Vatanen simply decides not to go back. He does not re-join his accepted society but goes off in another direction to seek something new. All the while he carries around the hare, who soon grows up and becomes tame.
In a similar theme to The Howling Miller, this book covers the theme of people who do not quite fit in. People who go against how people are supposed to behave in society, by fulfilling their roles. In The Howling Miller, the Miller was a hermit who had a habit of imitating animals – howling like a wolf. Other people were allowed their eccentrics, as long as they conformed to society’s expected norms and values.
Vatanen simply did not conform to those values – who wonders around without aim with a hare when they had a ‘good’ job as a journalist, a house and wife in Helsinki – even if it made them unhappy? The fact that he carted a hare around with him proved to be often the point that many people could not accept. It wasn’t actually just that he’d wordlessly quit his job or disappeared with warning – it was that he had a hare. Just a small thing but so essentially important in highlighting the pettiness of some people.
It is mildly funny – less humour I think than The Howling Miller, only enough to illicit a few smiles. Over all it felt a little aimless with Vatanen just travelling from place to place having one random adventure after another. I had a feeling Paasilinna didn't really have a destination when he wrote this book. Like Vatanen, he just decided to go wherever the idea took him. Vatanen as a character subsequently felt flat and undeveloped. The story did not have quite as much of an affect on me as the other.
I wouldn't say it is a disappointment – not at all, I did enjoy it but there was not the same satisfaction. I liked it as I read it but it isn't a story that will stay with me. I would still very much like to read more of Paasilinna’s works and hope that they will be translated into English.