Monday, April 28, 2014

Review of The Panda Theory by Paschal Garnier (Gallic Books, 2012; French 2008)

Gabriel is something of a lost soul.  When he arrives in a small Breton town he quickly makes friends through small acts of kindness.  However, he’s somewhat of an enigma, revealing little about himself.  And whilst he’s outwardly friendly, he’s also haunted by his past.  To those who he befriends he’s something of a godsend, but they increasingly remind him of what he has lost and why is wandering from one place to the next.

The Panda Theory is a literary crime novella.  It charts a week in the life of Gabriel and the people he befriends - a small bistro owner whose wife is in a coma, a lonely hotel receptionist, and two down-and-out hotel guests.  Garnier’s narrative is quite loose, rather than being driven forward by a focused story arc -- a mix of observations and droll asides, interspersed with short flashbacks.  It’s a style that’s deceptively engaging, aided by some black humour.  There’s always a sense that things are not quite what they seem, but there’s no real sense of foreboding.  I found it a joy to read up until the last quarter.  At this point, the story turns through ninety degrees and becomes something else entirely.  This twist might work well for some, but to me did not ring true the plot or character and felt quite jarring.  Consequently I was bumped a little out of the story.  Nevertheless, The Panda Theory is an interesting and engaging read and I’d be interested to try some of Garnier’s other stories as I think he creates an interesting blend of literary style and crime fiction.

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