To anyone who has not read any of Jasper Fforde’s novels, especially his Thursday Next series, a fair warning: he will take you on such a wild and fantastic ride into an alternate world and you will come off of it thrilled, exhilarated, and wanting for more. That was exactly how I felt when I read the first book on Thursday Next, The Eyre Affair, where the female protagonist, named Thursday Next, is a Literary Detective that fights crimes on the pages of the books. There are government conspiracies, wars, and book-hopping. As soon as I finished his first book, I bought and read the rest.
The Constant Rabbit is a standalone novel, completely unrelated to the Thursday Next series, but it bears his wit and dry humor. (Very British, you might say). Almost instantly, you are plunged into an alternate United Kingdom where the country’s 12 libraries are only open for precisely six minutes every two weeks in what is dubbed as Buchblitz. Instantly, as a reader, you are like—what? There is clearly something topsy-turvy in this world.
Then a rabbit comes along, talks, and borrows a book that almost upends the systematic library process of stamping, organizing, and shelving of books all within the six minutes that it is open. And you find yourself more curious about what the hell is going on. Why is a rabbit talking—and even borrowing a book?
In 1965, a strange thing happened called the Spontaneous Anthropomorphising Event, where along with the rabbits, “six weasels, five guinea pigs, three foxes, a Dalmatian, a badger, nine bees, and a caterpillar” where anthropomorphized. But the rabbits were considered the greatest threat to humans because of their proclivity to procreate rapidly. The initial disbelief and curiosity turned into celebration, before quickly turning into hatred and fear—and the United Kingdom Anti-Rabbit Party took centerstage with an elected Prime Minister spouting ideology that imply inherent bias disguised as serving the greater good of humanity. He implements policies that, on the surface, appeal to peace and harmony, but on a deeper level are leporiphobic (anti-rabbit).
Peter Knox, one of the staff during Buchblitz, is a member of the RabCoT (Rabbit Compliance Taskforce) whose real job is a spotter—one who identifies rabbits (because they look very similar and only a few humans have the uncanny ability to differentiate them)—although he tells everyone that he is a lowly accountant in the taskforce. He does not consider himself leporiphobic. The job is just that—a job that pays the bills. But when a family of rabbits move into their mostly right-wing neighborhood of Much Hemlock, his neighbors have tasked him to befriend the rabbits and offer them money to leave.
Complications ensue, especially since the mother rabbit is Constance, one who has a shared history with Peter way back in their university days. Peter finds himself caught between a rock and a hard place. As the novel progresses, he is pushed into a corner and out of his depth. And with a fox heading the RabCoT to forcefully rehome the rabbits, tensions escalate until the Battle of May Hill erupts. But as Constance says, it is important to have a long view of things. Without spoiling its bittersweet ending, the battle may be lost, but the war can still be won.
Jasper Fforde has once again written a deeply entertaining and original novel. A satire about our own prejudices, our apathy to things that don’t concern us, and an accurate portrayal of all that is wrong in our own world. You will find yourself laughing, while at the same time reflecting on our own inactions to the injustices around us. We are sometimes like Peter Knox, quietly living our own lives, our silence an implicit support on how we like to keep things the way they are.
The anthropomorphized rabbits are fully realized creations who are more humane and more enlightened than the human characters of the book. The novel is a blast to read. Fforde’s unique voice shines through, especially in building an alternate reality that is not unlike our own. Readers who have yet to discover his works have a lot to enjoy in this novel and this provides a great entry point to his earlier works. Those who love his works will find even more to love in this absurdist tale that is all too funny and achingly real.