Fantasy, Humor, Alt-History
Hodder & Stoughton; July 2, 2020 (UK)
Viking; September 29, 2020 (US)
326 pages (ebook)
4 / 5 ✪
I was kindly provided an advance-copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Hodder & Stoughton and NetGalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own.
Last year I actually read my first Jasper Fforde novel—Early Riser—and it was straaange. Like Jeff Noon strange. Like… something else strange. A story about a dream, a seasonal hibernation, and a love story between people that up until the halfway mark I didn’t realize weren’t people at all. Then there was an ending that confused me so thoroughly I didn’t know what to make of it. Fforde follows this oddity up with the Constant Rabbit, a tale about anthropomorphized rabbits and their acceptance among humankind. It’s… maybe less absurd, but that’s absurd in a good way. I think.
Peter Knox lives in Much Hemlock, a quiet little town in England, much away from the fuss of the city. Nothing gets its citizens riled up like their football, the Spick & Span awards, and Rabbits. Peter is much more concerned with his hobby of Speed Librarying, something that I couldn’t explain if I even had the faintest clue what the hell it is. And I don’t. But Rabbits are a concern to everyone else in Much Hemlock, so they are to Peter as well.
55 years earlier, an event known as “The Event” rocked Britain, spontaneously anthropomorphizing 18 rabbits, 9 bees, one caterpillar and a small host of other beasties. The bees haven’t been seen since and the caterpillar was so disturbed by the whole endeavor that it took up in a cocoon and hasn’t yet emerged. While the other species failed to make much of a dent on society, the Rabbits flourished, breeding, well, like rabbits. A jump forward to the present day finds around 4 million Rabbits in Britain alone. They speak, they work, they drive. They serve in the military, the navy, and eat a lot of lettuce and carrots. And they are hated for all of it.
Nothing has unified humanity like something else to hate. Something different. The Rabbit—while anthropomorphized (their bodies look like human bodies, with curves and bulges in all the right places)—are certainly different. Though they look a lot more human than their small, cuddly brethren, they just as clearly aren’t. What they lack in thumbs, Rabbits make up for in ears and teeth. And while humanity by in large hasn’t accepted them yet, the Rabbit is here to stay.
Or are they?
Peter works at RabCoT—the Rabbit Compliance Taskforce—which is an organization specifically designed to manage and police all matters Rabbit within England. While to his neighbors, he is simply a lowly accountant, Peter Knox is in reality a spotter: someone whose job it is to discern one Rabbit from another. This is just as difficult as it sounds as most Rabbits can’t tell most humans apart, and the feeling is quite mutual. Spotting is something that some people just have the knack for; it can’t be taught or learned, Peter is blessed with the ability, and in a rare position to use it. He’s also a rarity for his liberal views of Rabbits, something which is decidedly NOT the norm at RabCoT. Most are just one step above TwoLegsGood—a radical humanoid supremacist group—in their disdain for the Rabbit. But like it or not, the Rabbit are here to stay, and people have to learn to accept them.
That is, until a group of off-colony Rabbits move in next-door to Peter.
And, much to Peter’s surprise, he knows one of them. A Rabbitess by the name of Connie, whom he met in university—met and fell for, though nothing happened—arrives with her family, and turns Peter’s life upsidedown. For while the entire village of Much Hemlock is queueing up behind Peter to bribe, force or burn the Rabbits out of town, Peter himself is reluctant to see them go. For seeing Connie has opened a door he had thought was closed for good, and set in motion a series of events that will change Peter—and the world—forever.
So, I’m not sure what is an odder pitch: a winter wonderland full of murderous dreams, or a budding romance between an Englishman and an anthropomorphized Rabbit. I mean… it’s a tough call.
While the plot follows Peter in his life and job and interaction with Constance, the real story is that of the Rabbits and Humanity. As I said before, nothing has united humanity like someone else to hate. For years, we’ve been hating our neighbors, be it over religion, heritage, ethnicity, gender or creed. When there wasn’t any of that around, we came up with something else. So, drop a bunch of Rabbits in the gene-pool—anthropomorphized or not—and our fear of all things new and different takes it from there. The premise of the Constant Rabbit can be interpreted in so many ways, it’s difficult to know where to start. So much so, in fact, that I’m going to skip most of them. You know when you were in school, and your English teacher told you to read whatever book and correctly interpret what the author was thinking, only to later tell you that you were dead wrong and that they were actually trying to tell you this other thing? Yeah, I always hated that. Because the only one that could really know what the author was thinking was the author—and in Fforde’s case he isn’t talking (yet). So I’m not going to wildly speculate about what the author was trying to impart—I’m just going to pick the most obvious (to me at least) one. And talk about it for a sentence or two.
So, the Constant Rabbit deals quite a bit in the overwhelming leporiphobia of the Rabbit, the bigotry and abuse they suffer, how the government monitors and mistreats them, how radical groups go a step further—just short of killing them and making a stew. And now imagine our own world, where there is more than enough of this around despite the lack of 6ft, fuzzy, fully anthropomorphized Rabbits.
There’s no sex, in case anyone was wondering, so I’m fairly certain Fforde isn’t advocating beastiality. It’s probably just the racism one.
Reading this at the time I read it, with the backdrop of protests and racism and all else—it was impossible not to make some connections. But you can interpret those for yourself. I’m just going to deal with the story from here on out.
And… the story’s pretty good. It’s enjoyable, no matter your politics, if you can get past that. There’s the usual dry humor that Fforde imbues into the text, predominately through subtle wit, sarcasm, and the use of footnotes. It’s all quite entertaining, even the story of star-crossed lovers reuniting after an age apart. Even if one of them is an anthropomorphized Rabbit and the other’s English. Honestly, the romance was more compelling than I’d’ve thought, as it was the driving force—not the plot itself, which is by no means bad—that saw me through this book. The plot is alright, but one more interwoven with politics, which soured me on it (I loathe politics). The love story is more genuine, more real—even though Constance is a bit of a mystery throughout and Peter (though English) has quite a bit of character development and change to go through before the end.
Oh, and I still can’t explain Speed Librarying. As hooks go, this one was a bust—I was so thoroughly confused halfway through the first chapter that I ended up skipping straight to the second and beginning the book there. But this was one of only a few hitches in the story, as mostly everything carried on quite nicely over Peter Knox’s POV (he’s the only POV), through twists and turns, up hills and down valleys, until at some point it turned into not just a political piece, but an entertaining and enjoyable read as well.
The Constant Rabbit is the height of Jasper Fforde’s game, as it combines the author’s unique and shrewd writing style view and blends it with current hot-topics such as racism, bigotry and giant, anthropomorphized Rabbits. Then tops that with a healthy dose of absurdity, tomfoolery, and carrots. Peter Knox was an ideal narrator; a liberal view but one used to the comfort and order of the status quo. Though few other characters fleshed out quite like he did, it was Peter’s development that really sold the plot, the way that he viewed things altering the way I thought about even the most inane detail. While some may read into the politics of the book too much to enjoy it any, if you’re able to look past the present day parallels drawn to race, hatred, bigotry and violence—you might just find an enjoyable adventure within, albeit one that still involves anthropomorphic rabbits. One might even buy in to the romance within the story, one that—while a bit odd—was enough to keep me reading through to the end.