The Sage of Waterloo: A Tale, by Leona Francombe – Book Review by Fred Patten

by Pup Matthias

Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

518uaB1pVpL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_The Sage of Waterloo: A Tale, by Leona Francombe
NYC, W. W. Norton & Co., June 2015, hardcover $22.95 (x + 224 pages), Kindle $11.99.

This leisurely novel will tell you more than you want to know about the famous Battle of Waterloo of June 17, 1815. To the rabbits who live there today, it’s the only exciting thing that ever happened there. They never tire of hearing about it, in detail. William, the narrator, is one of those rabbits.

“Waterloo is where I was born, and where I spent the first three years of my life. Well, technically it wasn’t Waterloo itself but the ancient Brabant farm of Hougoumont, one of the iconic battle sites situated in the fields a few kilometers farther up the Chaussée de Waterloo. In 1815, this long, forested avenue funneled weary streams of humanity back and forth between the battlefield and the city – between destiny and deliverance.” (p. 5)

This may be the last generation that Hougoumont knows as a farm. William describes its decline from a working farm to a forgotten relic. “I was happy at Hougoumont. The last farmer to live there was not like the aristocrats who had once owned the chateau (there was no more chateau – the French had shelled it). He raised cattle, and seemed far less interested in rabbit and pigeon dishes than his predecessors. He was, thank heavens, a frozen–food sort of man, and thus our existence was blissfully irrelevant.” (p. 7) The rural village of Waterloo has expanded into a modern small city, and the old farm with its rabbit hutches and dovecotes will soon be torn down.

“I am no longer young. I’ll be eleven in a few months, which not only requires math well beyond my skills to calculate in human years, but also obliges me to press on with my storytelling. Those of you who are already experiencing the adventure of aging may have discovered that this part of the journey does not only entail unexpected dips and fissures in the road, aches in the limbs, problems reaching those hard-to-clean areas (Old Lavender gave them up early on) and so forth.” (pgs. 12-13). William describes his hutchmates in detail. “Jonas, a distant cousin, was a rash, handsome buck infamous for his preening, scheming, and disreputable tail-chasing.” (p. 13) “Boomerang, a slightly crazed uncle, had the obscure habit of throwing himself sideways against the barrier, bouncing off at ever-more-interesting angles.” (p. 14) “Caillou was the runt (his name, fittingly, meant ‘pebble’).” (ibid.) And others. “Most of us followed the general rules that defined the Hollow Way. Yield. Bump ahead. No left turn. That sort of thing. It was a predictable sort of life, vigorously stamped with the colony’s imprimatur: milling, eating, nudging, nipping, dozing … milling, eating, nudging, nip …You get the idea.” (p. 16)

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