Unassuming Briton Peter Knox has one ambition: to be unnoticed. By day, he’s a rank-and-file government employee, and by night he’s the single father of twenty-year-old Pippa. But when a family of anthropomorphized rabbits—including his old crush from university, Connie—moves in next door and invokes the ire of the entire village, Peter is forced to choose between maintaining the easy life he knows, and following his conscience and finally taking a stand.
“Wait, did you just say ‘a family of anthropomorphized rabbits’?” Yes, I did
The world of The Constant Rabbit is very much like this one, but with one major difference: Fifty-five years ago, after an unexpected snowfall on the night of a full moon, eighteen rabbits were transformed into human-sized rabbits in the whimsical style of Beatrix Potter. But what was seen as miraculous in 1965 is now seen differently—because in 2020, the anthropomorphized rabbit population is now 1.2 million rabbits strong, and the United Kingdom does not like it.
Our look into this unique world comes care of Peter, a likable man who bears no ill will towards rabbits. Unfortunately, he isn’t the ordinary accountant that he pretends to be; Peter actually has the rare ability to tell rabbits apart, making him one of the secret, essential “Spotters” of the government’s Rabbit Compliance Taskforce (RabCoT). That puts him in a tight spot when he finds himself meeting, and liking, Connie all over again.
Peter tries to be a friend to both his closed-minded neighbors and the newly-settled Rabbit family. But when Peter is confronted with the wrongs committed right under his nose, and the wrongs he is complicit in, he realizes that, for the first time in his life, he has to do something… and it isn’t going to be fun.
It’s a human’s world, but the rabbits are infinitely more interesting
In The Constant Rabbit, Jasper Fforde creates a charmingly lived-in world in which rabbits dress in “Beatrix Potter chic”, rabbit families make use of old-fashioned vacuum cleaners, and bucks challenge others to duels at dawn for their wife’s paw in marriage. (Rabbits, however, are still a matriarchal society, and very much ahead of the times compared to humans. You’ll see.)
Despite its improbability at first glance, Fforde’s world feels fleshed out and believable. In trivia and footnotes throughout the novel, he shines the spotlight on rabbit vocabulary, cultural cues, pop culture references, and events of note in wonderfully colorful ways.
An absurd yet lovable satire
Fforde is known for satire, and in The Constant Rabbit, he shows his skill, using the inherently absurd idea of anthropomorphized rabbits to skewer politics and anti-immigrant racism in the UK. For example, the novel’s only named political party is the UK Anti-Rabbit Party (UKARP), led by an unsubtly named Nigel Smethwick. Rabbits keep the economy going as cheap labor (such as call center agents), yet are considered second-class citizens and kept in colonies. And every move the rabbits make is viewed with suspicion.
While the novel’s premise may seem heavy-handed, it doesn’t feel that way. In fact, the book is great fun, whether it’s pointing out the shallowness of small-town life or poking fun at rabbit habits and behavior for entertainment. But when it gets serious, it’s serious—and as the stakes rise, it turns into a thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat… while leaving room for the occasional chuckle or full-on laugh along the way.
The work of a master writer
Fforde enjoys writing satirical, alternate history novels with worlds much like our own, and this novel seems to be Fforde through and through: witty, clever, and laugh-out-loud funny, with a ridiculous premise crafted so skillfully you would almost believe it’s real.
But while anthropomorphized rabbits are good comedy fodder, Fforde makes sure to punch up, not down, pointing out the illogical rhetoric of leporiphobes (rabbit-haters) and the institutions that keep rabbits down, with delightfully tongue-in-cheek wisdom and self-awareness. And through Peter, Fforde shows that sitting on the fence isn’t neutrality, but complicity.
I came for the rabbits and stayed for the rabbits. And maybe Peter, too
While my review has focused a lot on the book’s satirical nature, I need to say it straight up: The Constant Rabbit is a delight. With a wonderful cast of characters (including Peter!), searing insights into humanity and true allyship, and hilarious banter, it’s an enjoyable, unforgettable read with a lot of heart. And though it goes into surprising, and sometimes dark, territory as Peter comes face to face with his own prejudices, the ride is definitely one worth taking.
I loved The Constant Rabbit, and I already count it among my favorite reads of 2020. I can’t believe I spent 28 years of my life without reading a single Jasper Fforde novel—I’m glad Fully Booked remedied this for me!—and now I absolutely cannot wait to read more.