THE CONSTANT RABBIT / AUTHOR: JASPER FFORDE / PUBLISHER: HODDER & STOUGHTON / RELEASE DATE: JULY 2ND
Anthropomorphised rabbits notwithstanding, this satirical literary fantasy is very much of our own world. Its wit, wisdom, and filmic physicality will be no surprise to Jasper Fforde fans; it’s elegant, intelligent, enjoyable, and as deeply funny as it is moving.
‘The Event’, an unexplained anthropomorphising phenomenon, has left rabbits living beside humans, sharing our language, size, and intelligence - but not our intolerance for difference. Peter Knox lives a quiet life in an English village with his daughter, Pippa. He has happy university memories of his friend Constance Rabbit whom he failed to ask out; then their adult worlds collide as Connie’s family move in next door, to the shock of vehemently anti-rabbit villagers. Peter’s job, like everything else about village life, is another problem: he’s a Rabbit Spotter, providing information to UKARP (United Kingdom Against Rabbit Population). Peter and Pippa must confront their own tacit racism when they fall for, and finally need to stand up for, their Rabbit neighbours.
While the initial concept’s introduction may be a little heavy-handed, humour and philosophy more than sustain momentum. The sense of having grown up in a small world, and lacking courage or imagination to see beyond it geographically or ideologically, is particularly well played. So is our culture’s embarrassed prejudice when sensing better ecological or moral choices in others.
A victim of its own stylistic success, Peter’s reserve and embarrassment can distance Pippa, Connie, friends and enemies, but that’s consistent with his voice. A likeable but spineless hero is a gamble, but the right choice when here but for the grace of circumstances go us all: Peter is the embarrassment and awkwardness of the well-off and well-intentioned, allowing evil to flourish, recognising their part very late. The rekindling of his friendship with Connie is a satisfying exploration of the importance of doing what you can, how incremental change both of self-awareness and social action really can add up.
Fforde’s exquisite command of how our assumptions about animals have seeped into our language blends with elegant comparisons of how racism does the same. His deftly blended satire, literary fantasy and horror forces Peter, and us, to have the balls to look ourselves in the face, learn about the violence and racism we’re capable of as individuals and species, and note the call of action, whether satirical or natural, to do better.