There are 1.2 million human-sized rabbits living in the UK.
They can walk, talk and drive cars, the result of an Inexplicable Anthropomorphising Event fifty-five years ago.
And a family of rabbits is about to move into Much Hemlock, a cosy little village where life revolves around summer fetes, jam-making, gossipy corner stores, and the oh-so-important Best Kept Village awards.
No sooner have the rabbits arrived than the villagers decide they must depart. But Mrs Constance Rabbit is made of sterner stuff, and her family are behind her. Unusually, so are their neighbours, long-time residents Peter Knox and his daughter Pippa, who soon find that you can be a friend to rabbits or humans, but not both.
With a blossoming romance, acute cultural differences, enforced rehoming to a MegaWarren in Wales, and the full power of the ruling United Kingdom Anti Rabbit Party against them, Peter and Pippa are about to question everything they’d ever thought about their friends, their nation, and their species.
It’ll take a rabbit to teach a human humanity…
Jasper Fforde is one of my favourite authors and has been since I first discovered his Thursday Next and Nursery Crimes series some years ago. I’ve read the majority of his books – the only exceptions being the Last Dragonslayer series aimed at younger readers – and it’s a little surprising that this is the first of his books that I’ve reviewed on my blog…
Fforde writes fantastically clever novels that pose an interesting and often unusual “what if” scenario. In his latest novel, The Constant Rabbit, he explores what would happen if rabbits were human-sized, intelligent beings. What would their lives be like, and how would they be treated? How this scenario comes about isn’t fully explored. We know that in 1965 an anthropomorphising event transforms 18 rabbits (and a small number of other creatures) into 18 intelligent, talking, human-sized rabbits. Why this occurs and what causes it aren’t known, but by 2020 their number has increased to 1.2 million, the changes not affecting the amorous nature for which rabbits are well known.
The main character is Peter Knox – a human (how odd to have to call this out!) who works at the Rabbit Compliance Taskforce, an organisation which exists to ensure good behaviour in the rabbit population when many assume, with no evidence, that they are all criminals or will be before long. It puts him in a particularly awkward situation when Constance Rabbit and family become his new neighbours, and the residents of Much Hemlock send Peter in to befriend the family and to politely but firmly ask them to leave, bribing them if necessary. Unusually, Peter has nothing against rabbits and was good friends with Constance when they were at university together. I felt that I should like him for being relatively openminded, but I didn’t. To me, he came across as playing both sides even though he sees his job as nothing more than a way of paying the bills. He does come to question his role over the course of the novel, and so begins to redeem himself, and I have to admit that it’s a situation that leads to many awkward and amusing scenes.
The plot moves at quite a clip as the British Government, with the United Kingdom Anti-Rabbit Party currently in power, seeks to rehome all rabbits in a MegaWarren in Wales – by force if necessary – while the rabbits simply want the opportunity to live on equal terms with humans. It’s written with Fforde’s trademark humour, and while it’s ostensibly about rabbits, the parallels to real life are all too obvious and I read this as an allegorical tale exploring the unfair prejudice often exhibited to those who are different in some respect . The rabbits are treated poorly, made unwelcome in most places, and not given the same rights as people, despite no one hesitating to take advantage of them as cheap labour. It may seem – on the surface – to be a long way removed from the real world, but it works surprisingly well to highlight the unfairness that many face in society today.
The Constant Rabbit is entertaining and whimsical but carries a strong message despite its deceptively light tone. Recommended.