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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Constant Rabbit

Jasper Fforde

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To purchase The Constant Rabbit

Title: The Constant Rabbit
Author: Jasper Fforde
Genre: Novel
Written: 2020
Length: 306 pages
Availability: The Constant Rabbit - US
The Constant Rabbit - UK
The Constant Rabbit - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B : a bit blunt in its satire, but the clever and charming premise very winning

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 14/9/2020 Lauren Indvik
The Guardian . 10/7/2020 Eric Brown

  From the Reviews:
  • "Fforde's technique is satire; his target, the UK's well-meaning but all-too-complacent middle class. (...) The first half of the novel is slow going. (...) Good satire sharpens our moral sense, kindles our outrage (or shame), and rouses a few good laughs but as a critique of Ukip and middle-class sangfroid, The Constant Rabbit lacks punch." - Lauren Indvik, Financial Times

  • "A political satire cloaked in Fforde's trademark bizarre whimsy, the novel reads like a crazed cross between Watership Down and Nineteen Eighty-Four." - Eric Brown, The Guardian

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The basic premise in The Constant Rabbit is similar to that of many science fiction novels, featuring alien life-forms suddenly among us; Fforde's inspired twist is that the aliens are not extraterrestrial. Instead, they are an unusual form of the familiar: Fforde posits an 'Event', in 1965 -- the Spontaneous Anthropomorphizing Event -- in which small populations of a variety of animals suddenly took on human dimensions and human-similar form, while also maintaining many of their species-specific characteristics. (Fforde offers no real explanation for it; it's more or less just presented as something that happened; at one point his narrator does observe: "'The Event does have all the trappings of satire,' I said, 'although somewhat clumsy in execution'".) Most notable among the anthropomorphized animals are rabbits, now human-sized and able to talk -- both English and 'rabbity' -- and, despite missing opposable thumbs, quite functional in human society. They are also still quite capable of bounding about in rabbit-fashion -- as well as breeding at the usual high rabbit-rate, several litter per year.
       The novel is set in and around the English town of Much Hemlock in the present-day, fifty-five years after the Event; it is narrated by the human Peter Knox. The British relationship with rabbits is an uneasy one; legally, rabbits are not classified as humans (unlike, by a quirk, anthropomorphized foxes, of which there are also quite a few) and thus don't have the same rights. Many live in the few large rabbit colonies spread across the country, while thousands live in Ross-on-Wye, as a result of a largely successful: "experiment in rabbit/human integration undertaken in the seventies"; there's also the Isle of Man safe haven. A hundred thousand rabbits do have the legal right to live 'off-colony' -- pretty much anywhere they wish -- but over the years a political party, the United Kingdom Anti-Rabbit Party (UKARP) had risen to power with its anti-rabbit platform; its leader, Nigel Smethwick, was elected Prime Minister in 2012 and has continued to crack down on rabbits and rabbit-rights. (All resemblance to the anti-immigrant UKIP and buffoon-politician Nigel Farage fully intentional; among Smethwick's accomplishments was also that he saw to it that Britain exited the EU.)
       Peter is employed by a regional office of RabCoT, the Rabbit Compliance Taskforce. He has an unusual gift: most people can't tell most rabbits apart (just as rabbits have difficulties telling humans apart), but he has an eye for it. He's a spotter, tasked with identifying rabbits -- a job he's not entirely comfortable with (he (tries) to keep his actual duties secret from anyone he's close to), and one in which he was forced to do something morally compromising years earlier which still weighs on him.
       Peter has nothing against rabbits -- but that makes him somewhat of an outlier in Much Hemlock, which is: "a hotbed of right-wing sentiment". And when a rabbit-couple with their two children move in next door some of his neighbors are up in arms and ready to do anything to get rid of the unwanted new residents (beginning, at least, with the promise of a pay-off to the rabbits if they leave). Peter actually knows one of the rabbits, Constance, from his university days; they were quite close then -- and one of Peter's other shameful memories is of how he had not stood up for her when she (and all the other rabbit-students) were expelled from university; they had lost touch since then.
       Peter finds he's still quite attracted to Connie, and tries to act neighborly; the rest of the community at first encourages this, seeing Peter as an inside man who can help convince the unwanted newcomers to high-tail it out of there. Eventually, of course, he has to decide where his loyalties lie .....
       Both on the local level, where Peter's neighbors worry that the rabbit-family: "could be the thin edge of the wedge" to the national-political level, where the government is eager to segregate as many of the rabbits as possible (preferably all of them ...) in a MegaWarren they have under construction, there are widespread human efforts to keep human and rabbits apart. Peter's position -- professional and personal -- puts him right in the middle of the escalating conflicts, as he is used by both sides in the attempts to navigate the situation. The rabbits just want to live peacefully; the authorities and a few of the basically pitchfork-carrying locals want to be rid of the rabbits.
       As someone tells Peter:

While most humans are wired to be reasonably decent, a few are utter to be utter shits -- and they do tend to tip the balance.
       With some anthropomorphized foxes and weasels working for them, the uneasy balance is then tipped by the shits (and the underlings that blindly follow along) in a hurry, as the situation quickly escalates.
       In part, The Constant Rabbit is a redemption tale, as Peter comes clean about his role in that horrible incident from years ago and he gets a chance to try to atone for it. Though his role then and now is largely a passive one -- he is basically used by others, for bad and good -- at least in the end he throws what little weight he as behind the right things. In no small part, The Constant Rabbit is a rebuke to the shoulder-shrugging masses who allow the immoral to take hold and then be implemented -- not just those who, in ways small and large, implemented the increasingly outrageous Nazi repression and slaughter but all those 'good Germans' who simply, tacitly went along with it; a contemporary American public that at best yammers and protests a bit at Trumpian immigration policies but still allows them to be implemented; a British public going along with the Brexity in(s)anity of clownish figures like Farage, Johnson, and Cummings. Peter is, for the most part, no hero -- though admittedly he is often in an impossible position, being used as a pawn by both sides (with each side well aware of and taking into account how the other side is using him). He is, in fact, long part of the machinery, even if he's not happy about (indeed, quite ashamed of) it, but can rationalize it as a good-paying job, utilizing one of the few marketable skills he has, that he needs to hold onto. Ultimately, he does take a stand -- and even suffers some for doing so -- but then Fforde's scenario is so starkly black and white that by near the end there's hardly any way for him to do otherwise.
       Fforde's satire of English xenophobia -- which sadly is not much different from the xenophobia found elsewhere across Europe, America, Asia, and pretty much everywhere else -- is amusing enough, though it sits a bit uneasily because so much of it is so true-to-life. Having bunny-figures as the target of the fear and hatred nicely make the point about how stupid such xenophobia is; even where the fears are 'real', as in that rabbits could quickly over-populate the entire country, and take it over through sheer numbers, the point is nicely made. The satire is quite on target, and hammers home the points well enough -- if rather obviously --, but then there's Fforde's resolution .....
       Fforde builds the story up to a great final conflict, quickly escalating to that point. The resolution then is very cleverly handled -- but also an almost too-easy out of the situation. Arguably the lesson here is that mankind doesn't deserve the anthropomorphized rabbits; that humanity is not ready to share the world with other intelligent beings (and, indeed, rabbits are actually smarter than humans: "the average IQ of a rabbit is about twenty per cent higher than that of humans" ...) and all the benefits that brings with it, but it leaves the root problem -- of mankind's corrosive and pernicious fear of the other (or of the similar-but-not-quite-same) -- untouched.
       Fforde tells a good story, and builds and describes this familiar-but-strange world very nicely, making for an enjoyable read. Much of the satire does hit uncomfortably easily very close to home -- substitute a different (human) form of other for the rabbits and you've basically got, for much of the novel, an everyday realistic story that could be set in the contemporary US, UK, Hungary, etc. -- but that's presumably intentional; still, that also somewhat diminishes both the enjoyment and ultimately also the power of the story and its message. Still, this is a quite satisfying, solid read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 20 October 2020

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The Constant Rabbit: Reviews: Jasper Fforde: Other books by Jasper Fforde under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       British author Jasper Fforde was born in 1961.

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© 2020-2024 the complete review

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