Close Enough to the Arctic for Me

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Anyone who knows me as a reader generally knows that a majority of my time spent reading can be separated into one of two loves, depending on the particular season: Hungarian literature and Finnish literature (why to either is sort of incomprehensible, even to me). This summer appears to fall in the realm of the latter, the motherland of the Finns, as not only have I been working on rereading many of Bo Carplean’s novels but finishing the Moomin series, because, apparently, I am still five years old. Out of all the Finnish writers whose work I could find translated into English, I must admit that I found Arto Paasilinna’s 1975 novel The Year of the Hare, translated from the Finnish Janiksen vuosi, quite disappointing not only as an internationally well-loved story but as a beach read (yes, I am the only individual outside of Finland who probably reads such novels at the beach).

The Year of the Hare tells the story of Kaarlo Vanaten, a young journalist who is frustrated by the people and the responsibilities that tie him to the metropolis. After rescuing an injured hare while in the woods on assignment, the journalist gives up his career, his wealth, and his life to travel across Finland and into the Arctic Circle with the hare by his side, having marvelous life experiences and adventures as he goes. How heartwarming and pleasant is that?

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My concern with The Year of the Hare is not in its Thoreauesque message, though I firmly disagree with those critics who compare Vanaten’s journey to that of Thoreau in Walden. It lies mainly with three issues; 1. The style of writing; 2. The pace of the novel; 3. The issues of translation.

I would never blame a writer through their use of simplication within style. Especially when writing a novel with hundreds and hundreds of pages (which is not the case with Paasilinna- think more along the lines of Proust), simplifying what is happening in the story allows the reader to focus on the more vital bits of the plot and allows things to flow. In the case of the Year of the Hare, Paasilinna’s style is so simple that I’d argue a 3rd grader could read it, provided they were taught certain vocabulary found within the world of machinery and construction, which seems to be a constant throughout the novel. The story is so incredibly simple in language usage that it is nearly offensive. Paasilinna writes on a level of that of the Moomins’ creator, Tove Jansson, but unfortunately, Paasilinna’s audience was always for adults.

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Because of such simple language, the story flows so slowly. It is molasses compared to Proust, and nothing is more molassesy than Proust. Again, like My Age of Anxiety, I purchased this book back in early April, and it took me until mid-July to finish it. It is not a very exciting story, despite the fact that the protagonist has such wild adventures. I blame this on the style; the brief, abrupt chapters and the constant jumping from place to place prevent the reader from truly attaching themselves to any of the characters. Character development is nearly impossible to track, and it makes the actual storyline boring and unpleasant to follow. The Moomins share a similar style, but at least this abruptness is common within children’s stories. At least the Moomins are fun to read.

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Finally, I think it is important to mark the awkwardness in language within The Year of the Hare which I can only link to the literal translation from the Finnish to the English. There are so many examples of awkward phrasing that makes the reader stumble while reading or makes them stop to see if it is in fact a misprint:
“Kurko was grumbling about his fate: there was no work for him nowadays in the forests: too old, and a drunk besides” (93).

I hate not finishing a book. I know that there is no obligation to finish a book I find so miserable to read, but I am about 30 pages from finishing The Year of the Hare, and I am considering raising that white flag to Mr. Paasilinna’s novel. Close enough to the Arctic Circle for me.

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2 thoughts on “Close Enough to the Arctic for Me

    • Aww, thank you! It’s always disappointing when you think something is going to turn into a great story and it’s boring as hell. But I haven’t given up on Finnish literature yet!

      Liked by 1 person

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