##The Year of the Hare by Arto Paasilinna (translation by Herbert Lomas)

Rating: ★★★★

The Year of the Hare is a story about a man who looks after a wild hare which was clipped by a car. Inspired by the event, and struck by something between wanderlust and a fatigue of civilisation, he sets out to wander the country, with no particular direction or desire, carrying the hare in his jacket.

From these innocent if odd beginnings, the story begins to build, with the protagonist involved in a series of always believable but increasingly bizarre incidents, simple consequences of life on the open road with a hare. The nature of these stories is for the most part uplifting. People are suspicious of Kaarlo at first, but usually friendly and helpful with a little prompting.

As well as the surreal qualities of what might almost be real life, the novel carries a strong message about the appeal of freedom, with the unhindered protagonist sauntering as he pleases, finding work where he can, and avoiding all the stress and obligation of civilised life. The picture is not all positive, though. Kaarlo hardens as time goes on, becomes more withdrawn, less able to cope when he comes into contact with civilisation.

Eventually, after chasing a bear over the border into Russia, where the border guards assure him they were watching the whole time but didn't want to interrupt his vendetta, Kaarlo is arrested, and it comes to light that much of the easygoing travel he has indulged in is in fact illegal, that all the flavour is banned. A sobering weight like that is not easily negated by the last-minute escape the book ends on.

Charming, and a little bizarre, The Year of the Hare is a pleasant read for all comers.