With somewhat impeccable timing, this book could potentially be a seen as an ally to the current rising awareness of institutional (and apparent) racism. However, it is also a white man’s guilt about things in which he has been complicit, if not directly involved. But above all, it is satire – whether its satire of a situation that is too fresh to be appropriate remains to be seen – and the book is fully aware that it is satirising the British phobia of all things ‘other’.
Title: The Constant Rabbit
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publication Date: 2nd July 2020
Ownership: e-ARC provided by publisher
Rating: 4 stars
Following the mysterious Event in 1965, there are now a number of anthropomorphised rabbits (and a few other animals) living in Great Britain. They’re members of the community, but are still legally animals. Are allowed to work, but only to a maximum age. And organisations like the UKARP (UK Anti Rabbit Party) and 2LG (Two Legs Good) are convinced that they will multiply (like rabbits) to spread their agenda of rampant veganism, large litters and social discourse. How frightful.
What I really admire about Jasper Fforde’s writing is his ability to research a topic widely and thoroughly and to bring in lots of nuanced (and funny) comparisons. Some of this might be hard to read for non-Brits, but the clear parallels between how the UK runs and the kinds of organisations that are around, and those mentioned in this book is quite honestly amusing. Not only that, but he’s able to pick up on all of those references to rabbits in tv, literature and common sayings and really highlight how one animal in particular is viewed.
What can be harder to read is how rabbits are treated in this new world order. This book is clearly written as a (comic and satirical) response to how the UK and how certain groups and political parties respond to ‘others’ ie non-white, non-British. Using rabbits as a point is a great example and sets up a funny and frightening story that sees a rabbit family moving into a stereotypical English village that would much rather win the Spick & Span contest than host some ‘bunnies’.
The main character, Peter Knox, is dragged around between different sides and arguments. He works as a Spotter (identifying rabbits that aren’t easily notably different from other rabbits) for the Rabbit Compliance Taskforce (RabCoT). He justifies that what’ he’s doing is to keep his family comfortable and safe, and tries not to think about how his work is used. He hasn’t had much reason to have contact with rabbits since his university days, but when an old rabbit friend moves in next door, he finds himself caught between the machinations of the village, the demands of the government and the quiet, peaceful response of the rabbits.
Peter is a typical Jasper Fforde character (from what I’ve read of his other books) – someone who doesn’t necessarily choose what happens, and is often passively involved in the plot, but someone to whom things just end up happening. And that makes it funny too – he’s not nasty or heinous, he’s just … sadly typical.
There are some really intelligent reflections and social commentary – not just around British culture but also about how a lack of cultural understanding can lead to huge prejudice and fear.
To me, this reads not only as satire of the English approach to things that are “not-English” but also of a white man’s guilt. And that, as we’ve learned so recently, inaction is the same as being complicit. It’s clever, but I fear what is intended to shine a light may be seen as mockery.
I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.