Review: The Panda Theory by Pascal Garnier

pascal garnier, panda theory, noir, novella, french literature
The Panda Theory

Cast of Characters

- José - a restaurateur

- Gabriel - central character of the novel; a drifter

- Marie - José's wife

- Mandeleine - receptionist at Hôtel de la Gare

- Roland - Gabriel's friend; his wife, Nadine, leaves him and he commits suicide

- Nadine - the wife who left Roland

- Simon - smokes Meth and knows Gabriel

- Mutsouko - Mandeleine's cat who lived for fourteen long years

- Mathieu - someone who ends up eating a Louis-Philippe wardrobe after his wife dies inside it suffocatingly

- Françoise - Marie's mother

- Gaël - José's son

- Maria - José daughter

- Juliette - Gabriel's daughter

- Marc - a guy whose saxophone is bought by Gabriel; he kills his own father for want of inheritance

- Rita - Marc's partner

- Georges - name of an old woman's dog and husband

- Mauro - a Father of a church

- Blandine - probably wife of Gabriel

- Françoise Dacis - someone who hates pigeons and seagulls and all other birds

- Brice Soulas - classmate of Gabriel when he was in school

- Mr. Wintour - someone who makes a phone-booking for a hotel room where Gabriel is staying

- Adamo - husband of a woman who owns an Italian deli

"He was sitting alone at the end of a bench on a deserted railway platform. Above him, a tangle of metal girders merged into the gloom. It was the station of a small Breton town on a Sunday in October - a completely nondescript town, but certainly Brittany, the interior anyway. The sea was far away, its presence unimaginable. There was nothing picturesque here. A faint odour of manure hung in the air". So begins the life of Gabriel.

When I picked The Panda Theory up I had no idea who the author is and what the novel is about. It is nice to discover once in a while an (hitherto) unknown author, without setting your expectations high or low with the push or burden of the known. Such a process is fraught with as much pleasure as disappointment. With Panda, it was disappointment for me.

Gabriel is someone who keeps getting flashbacks of his life that was with his family. He is drifting in and out of people's lives in a French town and helps strangers with emotional and monetary support. These people get to trust him, but only to be betrayed by him in the end. That once a crest of happiness is reached one cannot ever be happier than that and hence life needs to end there and then itself is the philosophy he believes in. But the problem is that he believes in this for others, not just for himself.

José and Gabriel get along well in his bistro and Gabriel finds new friends amongst Mandeleine and Rita. He helps Marc by buying out his sax; helps Rita by giving her money when Marc dumps her; gives a lending hand to an old lady at a vending machine; praises Adamo's antipasti; and after declining offers to make love to Mandeleine several times, gives in one time and makes her happy. He is a do-gooder and goes out of his way to be there for everyone.

However the novel takes a sudden turn when Gabriel, the angel, starts killing people erratically. A trail of dead ends the novel on a supposedly shocked readership, trying to leave mysteries unsolved and open a chasm of the dark. But it fails to do any of that. The mysterious ways of his neither make one wanting to re-read the passages of his personal grief, nor do they leave any lasting effect of melancholia about the past or disappointments about the future. The characters disappear and you don't feel like having them back. They might as well be alive or kicking or feasting or doing anything else, and it wouldn't have made an ounce of a difference. There is no sense of loss you feel when it's over. It was as if it never begun. The unexpected violence, what was it for? I wonder for a second and then give up on the thinking and take to writing this review.

If you happen to read reviews on Amazon of Panda, you will realize that the words pointless & meaningless have been used a total of five times till today. Are the reviewers copying each other and drawing out a running theme to create their own review? Are they written by the same reviewer but in longer / shorter / different / helpful / unhelpful ways?

Pascal Garnier may be a writer of noir and much appreciated, but Panda is definitely not the one you would like to start with. Go somewhere else. But what about the Panda in the Theory? Well, he appears here and there to have his nose or feet touched. That's all.




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