Most readers will grasp the fact that this book is not going to be about Bugs Bunny. Jasper Fforde’s unique trademark of invective wit and critical observation cover politics, racism, sexism, bureaucracy and libraries. Actually the library in the village of Much Hemlock has reverted to the old card system but is still afloat despite very tight restrictions. Some reviewers say this book is a departure from Fforde’s usual style but I disagree. Jasper Fforde has always been out-there, although his unique writing charm has become more prominent since Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett left the room.
The main protagonists are village newcomer Constance Rabbit and long-time residents Peter Knox and his daughter Pippa. Despite cultural differences, they meet in the library and become friends. And the book title? I thought it had something to do with “The Constant Gardener” by John le Carré but in a Zoom interview via Avid Reader Bookshop, Brisbane, Mr Fforde himself said that it refers to people rabbiting on, e.g. constantly talking – so there you go.
“Rabbits rarely lie,” said Pippa. “They take their greatest pride in preserving most strongly the parts of them that aren’t us”. Thus rabbits walk tall but do lean towards the tonal qualities of Beatrix Potter so it’s a shock when UKARP United Kingdom Anti-Rabbit Party rears its ugly head, ready to enforce rehoming of rabbits to a Mega Warren in Wales. Things don’t look good for Connie but she’s not going to hop away. Can sharing her difficulties with her neighbour cause romance to blossom over a lettuce salad? But wait, average bloke Peter hides a dark secret.
As the byline reads “It’ll take a rabbit to teach a human humanity…” and for any reader with an open mind that’s what this book achieves. Situations run parallel to today’s world like a surreal split in the time-continuum, engaging satire and brazen behaviour with apprehension and alarm. It doesn’t take much effort to transpose our current social and political climate over the chapters. It rapidly becomes clear that the intertextual remarks are meaningful and at times confronting.
Like the home-created experiments that lived and breathed in Thursday Next (in earlier Fforde books Pickwick the Dodo was made from a kit) Connie’s large family had not been the only animals caught up in the 1965 Spontaneous Anthropomorphising Event. Six weasels, five guinea pigs, three foxes, a Dalmatian, a badger, nine bees and a caterpillar suffered disorders. What happened to them is succinctly explained.
Chapter “Searching in vain & Shopping in town” Connie talks about her acting career and lets slip a few movie names. There’s even a dig at the Playboy Bunny era. I could have done with more illustrations as per previous books but real product brand names and clever wordplay are liberally sprinkled throughout the story; and organisations like TwoLegsGood, Rabxit, and RabCoT exist alongside old-school references, a mixture of “jolly good chap” and 2020 tactile sensibility.
What I like about Fforde’s writing style is the wry humour, he tells it like it is – with a twist. The smarmy Senior Group Leader, Mr Torquil Ffoxe does not escape being lampooned for about forty permutations of the double ff in his name when “All, without exception, were pronounced Fox” so is that a dig at Fforde’s own moniker or reader misinterpretation?
In my opinion, this book is vaguely similar to George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” but does not match because in “The Constant Rabbit” Fforde has significantly placed every name, action and event to create an edgy kind of intimacy, an uncomfortably familiar stab of recognition for readers. With Manor Farm you feel things won’t turn out right; in Much Hemlock you want things to turn out right. Best of all, Connie Rabbit has joined the illustrious list of strong female characters Jasper Fforde has written over the length of his literary career.
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
Jasper Fforde has been writing in the Comedy/Fantasy genre since 2001 when his novel “The Eyre Affair” debuted on the New York Times Bestseller list. Since then he has published 14 more books (which include a YA trilogy) with several becoming bestsellers, and counts his sales in millions. “The Constant Rabbit” is his 15th novel.
Jasper Fforde previously worked in the film industry, and now lives and writes in Wales UK. His oeuvre consists of series and standalones and his recent novel “Early Riser” is a thriller set in a world in which humans have always hibernated; his latest book “The Constant Rabbit” about anthropomorphised rabbits becoming the underclass in a post-Brexit Britain was published 2020.