When Gabriel steps off the train in a small Breton town, he is a complete stranger. Nobody knows where he came from or who he really is. Yet his small acts of kindness make an impression on the locals and he is soon welcomed into their community. But Gabriel may not be as straight forward as he seems, for he is troubled by his past.

The Panda Theory is a charming little French novella which might just err on the side of being a thriller. The publishers may categorise Garnier’s books as “noir” but I found the characters much more engaging than I would normally in noir fiction. Gabriel is a friendly man and the majority of the book shows how he touches the lives of several people in small but meaningful ways. All the characters seem real and remain feeling French throughout the translation. Gabriel’s past troubles are revealed in short flashbacks, slowly building up a picture of what he was running from.

The panda in question is a large stuffed toy Gabriel wins from the fair. He didn’t really want it but it seems to hang around. The panda welcomes everyone with open arms and a cheery demeanour. Is Gabriel like the panda? I’m not telling, although I really didn’t see the ending coming.

Pascal Garnier sadly died in 2010 but left behind what seems to be a large body of work, long and short, for adults and children. Gallic Books has started translating his work into English with three novellas; The Panda Theory, Where’s the Pain? and The A26. I’m looking forward to reading more of his work.

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