The Panda Theory – Pascal Garnier (2008)
Previously on this blog, I mentioned how I love randomly running across new books to read. I especially love when someone sets up a shelf or box full of free books for whoever wishes to read them. My workplace, the Baylor College of Medicine on Houston, Texas, has such a shelf near the cafeteria. I have culled several great medical texts from it. Normally I stay away from the novels placed on that shelf, as they tend to be entertainments like Patricia Cornwall or some other such author, but this small grey book caught my eye. I was unfamiliar with the author, Pascal Garnier, but after reading the front and back cover, I was intrigued. On the inside, I noted that the book was a translation from the original French. I always enjoy finding a new author, especially one from a non-English speaking country, so I grabbed it and dove right in.
The very first paragraph on Page 1 sucked me in. A man, disembarking off a train in Breton, finds himself in a nearly deserted train station, hands filthy after travelling, and heads out into the quiet “nondescript town” whose air smells faintly of manure. He finds a room, and proceeds to look for a place to have dinner. The woman running the desk at the Hotel, and the man running the local pub, offer welcome at the same time they bemoan the lack of anything to do in the small town.
Gabriel, the protagonist, quickly enmeshes himself with the locals he meets. He is an exceedingly good cook, which comes in handy several times, but he has something disquieting deep inside him of which we are barely aware. As the story progresses, we sometimes go back in time to experience Gabriel’s life before he arrived in this small town. In this manner, Pascal Garnier slowly unfolds Gabriel’s past. With each passage, we start to understand that for all the peace and calm shown by Gabriel with his new friends, there is a deep disquiet contained in the man.
Gabriel ingratiates himself with the various locals he has gotten to know. We learn of their lives, as they explain to Gabriel the reason for their current states. Gabriel listens, and seems to relate. However, as we soon learn, Gabriel’s past has changed him deeply, leaving him almost emotionless. The way he describes the world around him informs the reader of the true state of Gabriel’s mind. His internal dialogue is cynical, detached, joyless, yet deeply observant.
As with all the novels I review on the Intellectual Journey, I will not go into further detail concerning the plot of The Panda Theory. Novels are unfolding mysteries and to give anything away is anathema to me. However, I will say that it has been a long while since I found an author that spoke so clearly, yet so descriptively. Pascal Garnier’s writing is lucid, clear, simple, and constantly surprising. I give great credit to the translator! I am so excited to have discovered a new author. That is one of my favorite things in reading. I will definitely hunt for more Pascal Garnier novels! I highly recommend this book, a quick read whose story will stick with me for a long time.
(This book can be purchased here: https://belgraviabooks.com/product/the-panda-theory )