A talking rabbit, a hunting party, and an apocalyptic storm descend on the French countryside.
Any novel with talking animals—any novel for adults, anyway—is immediately suspect. Desarthe’s (Chez Moi, 2008) latest does feature a talking rabbit, but the result isn’t as tacky as you might think. Tristan is a yielding, nonconfrontational (human) transplant to the French countryside. When his unyielding wife urges him to join the ultramacho village men on a hunting trip, he acquiesces—but he doesn’t mean to kill anything. When he shoots a rabbit, he does so by mistake and scoops the injured-but-still-living body into his game bag with the hope of protecting it. Tristan and the rabbit go on to engage in a conversation the rest of the hunting party is apparently unable to hear (“Don’t die,” Tristan thinks; “I’m not dying,” the rabbit replies). But then Dumestre, the leader of their little hunting circle, falls into a deep hole, unable to climb out; two of the men go for help, while Tristan (and the rabbit) wait with him. As if that weren’t enough, it soon starts to rain—a heavy, apparently apocalyptic rain. And if that wasn’t enough, flashbacks from Tristan’s sad childhood intersperse with the action. Desarthe’s prose is elegant and clear, and, like other recent French authors, she’s interested in larger existential questions: what it means to be a man, to be human, to live a courageous life. But still: Why the talking rabbit? It’s not clear. It’s not clear, either, what the novel adds up to in the end, not even when the entirely unsurprising secret between Dumestre and Tristan’s wife is revealed.
This slim novel engages but doesn’t surprise.