Artsound Book Break – The Constant Rabbit by Jasper Fforde

If you have encountered the writings of Jasper Fforde (1 j and 2 ffs) before, then you will either love him or you will find his work irritating. If you haven’t tried him – well, I’m a fan, so I urge you to do so with all speed.

His writing gleefully exploits both the fact that fictional worlds are not the real world, and the convention that they accurately describe it. Even his most realistic novels will have unsettling asides, or minor sticking points, that periodically remind you that all description is a form of fantasising. But this hides serious intent – fundamentally his books are social commentary even if it is served with a dash of whimsy. A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.

The Constant Rabbit is his most recent book, published this year. It is set in contemporary Great Britain, but a Britain which is 55 years on from the mysterious “Inexplicable Anthropomorphisising Event” of 1965, which has created a class of humanised rabbits, at odds with the rest of British society. These rabbits are simultaneously reviled as fast-breeding vegan do-gooders, and exploited as  cheap labour, by the humans. Their culture is alien. The laws have been systematically stacked against them. They are forced to live in registered colonies, unless specifically permitted to leave. But some exceptional rabbits are still doing quite a good job of getting by in this hostile world.

The story unfolds through the eyes of Peter Knox, quiet human inhabitant of a middling village in Hertfordshire, whose humdrum life is turned upside down when a family of rabbits moves in next door.(not bunnies btw, which is a derogatory, specist, term).

So far, so fantasy, and Fforde himself has noted that bookshops do struggle to place his work.  But really, while is this a much more empathetic work than, say, Animal Farm,  its concern for social issues is no less serious. The book touches on some deep philosophical issues to do with hierachies and humanity. Cultural clashes and class based societies.

If an accident of birth has given you a position above other individual who may have greater gifts, do you support the system that created this? or do you you fight against it to create a meritocracy? At what point does not rocking the boat become supporting an unjust society? And do you accept being oppressed if you are allowed to oppress others in turn?

Along the way, the story neatly skewers some of the conceits, social structures, and opportunism that have led to the footshooting that is Brexit, from anti-immigrant sentiment to single issue political parties.

But it’s not all grim. There is a lot of fun to be had in describing  a world with anthropomorphic rabbits, and Fforde makes the most of the opportunities.

And the ending? Well, it sits somewhere between messy reality and a satisfying narrative arc. With a twist I didn’t see coming.

Jasper Fforde spoke at the National Library a few years ago. While here he clearly made good use of his time in the area, as local readers will notice an Easter egg just for us. I  will say no more on that though – you will have to find it yourself by reading the book.

The constant rabbit is a fast paced, rollicking 24 carrot tale which gives paws for thought. Four and a half nose twitches out of five from me.  I bought my copy from Paperchain Manuka to support my local independent bookseller, not that they know about this review.  But it can be found where ever you get your book fix, I’m sure.

Title: The Constant Rabbit

Author: Jasper Fforde

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Published: 2020

ISBN: 9781444763638