Not to be Overlooked introduces a variety of wonderful but lesser-known books to assist readers in finding their next great reads. This week’s column covers a review of The Year of the Hare by Arto Paasilinna and The Christmas Guest by Peter Swanson.
The Year of the Hare by Arto Paasilinna
Review by Georgia Appleyard
The Year of the Hare by Arto Paasilinna is a whimsically charming novel originally published in Finnish in 1975 and translated into English by Herbert Lomas for the UNESCO Collection of Representative Works for Finland in 1994. The narrative unfolds as a delightful adventure following Vatanen, a disenchanted journalist who, spurred by a car accident involving a wild hare, chooses to cast aside his former life and disappear into the wilderness. This decision propels our protagonist into an impromptu journey through the Finnish wilderness in pursuit of the injured creature, marking the beginning of a comically captivating tale of self-discovery.
As Vatanen and his newfound companion traverse the wintry landscape of Finland, they encounter an eclectic ensemble of characters and become involved in a series of predicaments, each contributing to the unfolding chaos that signifies a life outside of societal conventions. From encounters with a reindeer herder to an uninvited bear searching for a sweet treat, each highly entertaining episode invites us to reflect on human nature itself, as the protagonist steadily becomes more akin to the wild animals he surrounds himself with than the human civilisation he left behind.
Throughout Vatanen’s adventures, the hare remains a steadfast companion in a heart-warming display of loyalty between a human and their (albeit unconventional) pet, which so many of us can relate to. Vatanen’s motivation for following the hare into his new life is never explained, but it hardly needs to be. As the narrative evolves into a series of increasingly high-stakes events, these adventures provide a humorous yet thought-provoking commentary on human relationships and the desire for personal freedom.
The Year of the Hare transcends being a mere story; it becomes a celebration of the unconventional and a reminder that true happiness often lies along less-travelled paths. The novel, with its intriguing characters and exploration of individualism, freedom and authenticity, solidifies its place as a timeless addition to literature. Lomas’s translation preserves the humour and charm of Paasilinna's original work, making it a classic and thoroughly enjoyable read for an Anglophone audience. Set against the icy backdrop of the Finnish wilderness, this book offers a perfect escape for winter reading, captivating readers with its enchanting narrative and the enduring theme of a love of animals.
The Christmas Guest by Peter Swanson
Review by Natalia Alvarez
With Christmas just around the corner, I wanted to review something that would be different from your typical holiday novel, but still technically classifiable as such. This is where The Christmas Guest comes in! With its lack of holiday cheer and deceptive nature, this new novella comes from bestselling psychological suspense author Peter Swanson. Published in October 2023 by William Morrow, this short 104-page book is guaranteed to take readers on a wintery, spine-chilling adventure perfect for anyone who has decided they are not necessarily in the holiday spirit.
The novel begins during Christmas time in 2019, introducing us to a woman who finds an old journal while looking through boxes. She discovers that it is the diary of an American student, Ashley Smith, from December 1989 when she was studying art in London. Ashley had recently become homesick and, with her classes not going the way she had hoped, was not looking forward to spending the holiday season alone.
This changes when a fellow student, Emma Chapman, invites Ashley to spend Christmas at her family manor in the Cotswolds. Although Ashley does not know Emma all that well – in fact, she cannot recall a single time they have talked or acknowledged each other – she decides to accept the invitation for the chance to spend time at what she knows could be her only opportunity to visit a beautiful English countryside manor. Upon her arrival, she meets Emma’s family, including her twin brother Adam who Ashley is immediately drawn to.
Ashley chronicles every aspect of her stay in her diary, writing about how the manor fell into disrepair and most of its grandeur became lost due the small number of staff available to tend to its many needs. Still, the holiday season continues, and the trio spend their time entertaining themselves at the manor or amongst friends in the local pub. All seems well for the overly-trusting Ashley, until she learns of an unsolved murder that took place a few months prior in town. This is where the story really begins to unfold.
This novella is a perfect thriller for this season; it has just enough Christmas vibes to fit in with the holidays, but also manages to feel anti-Christmas at the same time. This book would be a great palate cleanser for all those dedicated theme readers who have decided that twelve holiday cheer books are the way to go, or anybody else looking for a fast-paced, easy-to-get-through wintery thriller. Pick up The Christmas Guest today!