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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Panda Theory

Pascal Garnier

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To purchase The Panda Theory

Title: The Panda Theory
Author: Pascal Garnier
Genre: Novel
Written: 2008 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 171 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Panda Theory - US
The Panda Theory - UK
The Panda Theory - Canada
La théorie du panda - Canada
The Panda Theory - India
La théorie du panda - France
Das Schicksal ist ein Pandabär - Deutschland
  • French title: La théorie du panda
  • Translated by Svein Clouston (uncredited in the book itself, where they write: "Translated from the French by Gallic Books"; the translation is also Ⓒ Gallic Books)

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Our Assessment:

A- : unfolds very nicely, shifts slowly and beautifully into darkest shades of noir

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Rev. of Books . 9/4/2020 John Banville
The Observer . 24/3/2012 Henry Krempels
Publishers Weekly . 2/12/2013 .
Sunday Times . 25/3/2012 David Mills

  From the Reviews:
  • "This often bleak, often funny and never predictable narrative is written in a precise style; Garnier chooses to decorate his text with philosophical musings rather than description." - Henry Krempels, The Observer

  • "(T)his novel is dark enough to sink the hook deep into fans of noir." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Panda Theory is a hard to place novel -- not quite a thriller, not quite a noir, not quite a study of the individual and society, though it has elements of all of these. It is a novel of calm, and though ultimately this calm is disrupted -- really disrupted -- even that turns out differently than readers might have expected.
       The central character is Gabriel, who arrives in: "a small Breton town on a Sunday in October". Though he doesn't seem lost, he does seem a bit at sea, with no real reason for being there and no obvious business to attend to. He comes across as a drifter, but with enough money not to worry about that (and, in fact, he's rather generous to others, without expecting anything in return). He's also somewhat of a loner, even as he quickly makes connections in the town. We soon learn that he has -- or had ? -- a wife and daughter; soon enough we suspect that something happened to, or with regard to, them, but it's only deep into the novel that the full picture emerges.
       Gabriel does make some local connections. The receptionist at his hotel, Madeleine, takes to him and wouldn't mind getting involved with him -- but though he's friendly with her, he's careful about getting too intimate. He also befriends a local bistro owner, José, a father of two small children who is worried about his hospitalized wife. And he also comes into the lives of a young couple in his hotel, the man, Marco, back in town hoping to collect an inheritance since his father seems to be on his deathbed -- but still willing to pimp out his girlfriend, Rita (whom he plans to dump as soon as the money comes in).
       Death hovers in the air, from the news reports glimpsed in the background on TV to snatches of telephone conversations ("When they die, cats purr", Madeleine tells her friend) to Marco's dying father and José's comatose wife. Beside all this, Gabriel seems a benign, calming figure. The panda of the title is one he reluctantly accepted at the tiny local funfair, a huge "hideous toy panda" he wins for being a crack shot (yes: "It was easy; all you had to do was empty your mind" ...) that he leaves out with the garbage but José retrieves and puts in a corner in his bistro -- "it'll cheer up customers", he thinks.
       Gabriel leads an aimless life in this small town, constantly crossing paths with these various acquaintances and spending time with them -- eating, drinking, and helping out in small ways when he can. He's supportive and helpful, and doesn't seem to want anything from them, except perhaps occasionally just company. But, of course, there's more to it. Madeleine asks, but can't get much out of him:

     'Do you travel around because of your work ?'
     'It's not exactly work -- it's a service I provide.'
     'What sort of service ?'
     'It depends.'
       With its short chapters, littered with odds and ends (background is significant here, expertly woven in by Garnier), and easy-going tone one almost forgets how much death and tragedy there is in The Panda Theory as it goes along, from reminiscences of killing a lobster to someone who almost chokes on their food to a woman whose dog was poisoned. After all that, nothing should come as a surprise -- and yet it does. Garnier's resolution seems, in part, almost anti-climactic -- at first; ultimately (there's more ...) it packs a hell of a punch.
       The Panda Theory works because Garnier unfolds the story so well, and because he's a wonderfully stylish writer. A scene like that of Madeleine and Gabriel driving gives a good sense of the whole feel of the novel;
     Road signs lit up by their headlights flashed by: Saint-Martin-des-Champs, Saint-Sève, Taulé, Saint-Pol-de-Léon ... They were just signposts, that was all. Nothing was there to prove that these places actually existed. The night dissolved these villages like sugar into coffee.
       The Panda Theory is ultimately a very dark novel, but a very impressive one -- all the more so (and all the more effectively) for Garnier resolutely not doing what's most obvious.

- M.A.Orthofer, 14 February 2014

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The Panda Theory: Reviews: Other books by Pascal Garnier under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Pascal Garnier lived 1949 to 2010.

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© 2014-2021 the complete review

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