Book Review: The Constant Rabbit by Jasper Fforde

“Humans have a very clear idea about how to behave, and on many occasions actually do. But it’s sometimes disheartening that correct action is drowned out by endless chitter-chatter designed not to find a way for ward but to justify petty jealousies and illogically held prejudices.”

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The Constant Rabbit is set in an alternate 2020 in the UK, in a little village called Much Hemlock. Fortunately, this alternate 2020 does not have a raging plague, but it does have over a million human-sized rabbits following an Inexplicable Anthropomorphising Event fifty-five years earlier. The United Kingdom Anti Rabbit Party are in power, trying to enact anti-rabbit policies like the enforced rehoming of rabbits to a new MegaWarren in Wales. It isn’t a great time to be a rabbit, or a friend to rabbits. The village of Much Hemlock is very right wing and leporiphoic, and a family of rabbits are moving in.

Much Hemlock is very much like every insular, intolerant village you can imagine. They are tied to their own traditions and way of life and intolerant to anything that might impact upon that or change it in anyway. It is also home to an anti-rabbit extremist group, TwoLegsGood, an intolerant hate group whose views and arguments seem utterly ridiculous, and yet also very familiar from real life arguments in favour of Brexit.

Peter Knox, a resident of the village considers himself a friend to rabbits. He certainly isn’t leporiphobic like his fellow villagers, even if he does work as a Spotter for RabCot, helping to identify and apprehend rabbits doing anything even slightly undesirable. He is ashamed to tell people what he does, and he doesn’t share the organisation’s leporiphobic stance, but he doesn’t challenge them either. His daughter, Pippa, is an absolute joy. She is smart and articulate, not afraid to stand up for what she believes, and she makes some brave choices considering the state of the world she lives in. I loved seeing Peter’s development in the book and how he reflects on and challenges his own stance, realising the part he has played in oppressing rabbits. There are some important messages in there for all of us considering ourselves allies to any minority group.

He went to university with Connie, the rabbit moving in next door, who he meets again at a speed librarying event. This is exactly as bonkers as it sounds. It’s one of my favourite scenes in the book; it’s so absurd but you can picture it happening and the attention to detail in it is astonishing. Jasper’s writing is always brilliantly detailed, the thought he puts into the small, background details never cease to amaze me. There is a very rich and detailed history of rabbit culture that Jasper weaves seamlessly into the narrative, and he’s considered every detail right down to exactly why it is offensive to gift a rabbit a basket of washed carrots.

Another favourite part of the book for me was the court scene. I won’t spoil it, but there is a court appearance where a rabbit is the defendant’s lawyer but he is not qualified and appears somewhat lacking in legal knowledge, proclaiming that he has “found a boxed set of Judge John Deed” and watched it, so he absolutely knows what he’s doing. I laughed so much at this.

Connie is an intriguing character and her motivations remain a mystery for most of the book; you’re never quite sure how much she knows or how you stand with her. She is bold and appears unconcerned with the goings on of the village, very much living the best version of her own life, but there’s always a little hint that there’s more going on with her than you see.

Doc, her husband, was my favourite character. He is a very practical buck, and what you see is what you get. He’s quick to anger, but also quick to apologise and move on. He is obsessed with people, Peter included, wanting to appropriate his wife (possibly with good reason). He is friendly to those who are friendly to him, although his obsession with duelling is a little unnerving. The duelling is an important part of rabbit culture and it becomes important later in the book, in a scene that utterly hurt my heart.

I’ve seen this book pitched as a Brexit novel, and it almost certainly is, but you could replace the rabbits in this group with any minority group and the story would still hold up. It is ultimately about the choices we make to support structures that oppress those unlike ourselves and challenges us to do better and to be better people. There’s some real irony in the fact that the rabbits have to teach the humans what humanity is.

The Constant Rabbit is another brilliant novel from Jasper. He has long been a favourite author of mine, and this is genuinely one of his best books.

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