Content Note: (critical treatment of) racism and fascism
In 1965, an as of yet unexplained Anthropomorphising Event took place that transformed 18 rabbits into intelligent, talking human-sized beings. Ever since, they have multiplied and become a part of society. What part exactly that is, is a hotly-debated topic. The UKARP (UK Anti-Rabbit Party) that wants to see rabbit rights strictly limited has garnered much momentum. Peter Knox works for RabCoT, the Rabbit Compliance Taskforce, but sees the mounting leporophobia around him with concern. When a rabbit family moves in next door, and he realizes that he knew Connie, the mother, in college, it becomes ever more obvious that Peter will need to choose a side.
The Constant Rabbit is not subtle in its allegory, but its so supremely weird in the most wonderful way that it never feels preachy. It’s instead a deeply political, funny and revealing book.
Jasper Fforde is one of those authors where I buy and read every book he writes and it always pays off, albeit in very different ways for each book. He is also one of the few male authors who can write a book about a middle-aged male protagonist whose philosophy in life basically amounts to “keeping his head down” and still have me excited to read about him. And not because Peter is somehow not that guy – he definitely is. But he is also more than that. Or he becomes more than that.
By choosing a protagonist who is a classic follower, someone who is convinced that his basic decency somehow inoculates him against the evils of the system he participates in, someone who is just a small cog in a great machine who thinks himself immune from reproach because he was never actively violent, Fforde shows that you can’t be neutral in an unjust system. Taking a centrist position means just making life for the powerful a whole lot easier.
This perspective also means that The Constant Rabbit is a novel about oppression for the oppressors, not the leaders but the every-day participants. One could argue that it would have been more important to center the perspective of the oppressed, but I’d say it’s the only kind of novel that an middle-aged abled white cis man could write and succeed. And I think that Fforde did it well.
Plus, I liked the way he fleshed out the rabbit culture, making it truly its very own thing. There was a touch of “noble savage”-ness to it, though – the rabbit seem in many ways wiser than the “civilized” humans which recalled the romanticizing way colonizers talk about the colonized a bit. But the way it is set up and contrasted, and the fact that rabbit culture isn’t just wise but more than that, meant that it brushes past this trope. At least for me as a white person.
Apart from the politics, the book is a whole lot of fun. The concept is as weird as one expects from a Fforde novel, and he knows how to amp up the absurdity of everything, always with a bit of wink that makes the harsh and astute politics go down more easily. In short, it’s entertaining, but also critical and that’s the perfect combination that I hope for everytime I pick up a Fforde novel.
Summarizing: a really good read with a big sidedish of criticism.