Jasper Fforde ‘The Constant Rabbit’ Book Review

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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.

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Jasper Fforde reads a portion of his new book The Constant Rabbit during Zoom interview via Avid Reader Bookshop, West End, Brisbane, Australia in July 2020 https://avidreader.com.au/products/the-constant-rabbit-1

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.

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Part illustration taken from frontispiece drawn by Bill Mudron of Portland, Oregon USA (and my cast-iron rabbit)  https://www.billmudron.com/

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


IMG_20190907_185124Author Profile:

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.

Check out Dan Simpson’s blog Writer’s Routine for Jasper Fforde audio interview.
All you ever wanted to know
http://www.jasperfforde.com/

Retrospective: The Casual Vacancy by J K Rowling 2012

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The Casual Vacancy, First edition worldwide cover, Author J. K. Rowling, Publisher Little Brown and Company, Publication date 27 September 2012, Pages 503. The illustration denotes a square and cross marked on a voting ballot paper.

Who read The Casual Vacancy by famed British author J K Rowling?  I certainly did!  It was her first post-Harry Potter novel and caused quite a stir.  I worked in library services at the time so I helped shelve this hardback hundreds of times.  Fortunately the cover was so bright (and the original publication rather big) it was always easy to locate for prospective readers.  Actually the book did not stay shelved for long, there were so many on the waiting list clambering to read it.

The Casual Vacancy was written under Rowling’s real name prior to publication of her Cormoran Strike detective series written under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.  Don’t ask me why, it didn’t fool anyone.  I do remember penning a scathing review of Lethal White the fourth book in that series.

Anyway…

In 2015, The Casual Vacancy was made into a British TV three-part miniseries.  Directed by Jonny Campbell, scripted by Sarah Phelps, and starred Michael Gambon, Julia McKenzie, Emelia Fox, and others I recognised from sit-coms, but unfortunately never got to see.  Actually this production may not have reached Australian television screens.  By all accounts, viewers were outraged by the changed ending, giving rise to the old saying ‘the book is always better’.

Now, without further ado, I present—

my original book review (previously published on a now-defunct book readers website) hopefully without spoilers—

The Casual Vacancy by J K Rowling 2012
Reviewed by Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2013

Quote “It was a brilliant piece of marketing strategy to publish this J K Rowling book prior to her (subsequently more popular) detective novel ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’.  What better way to heighten interest and arouse social consciousness than her very first post-Potter novel.  A long-awaited book, The Casual Vacancy is liked and loathed in equal measure but disliked more for the content than the writing – even though we’ve probably read similar books and met people similar to those in Pagford.  I think the pace is well-crafted, the voice and sense-of-place are beautifully brought to life, tinged with the graveness of a modern-day Dickens.

“The characters are an inglorious burst of humanity, almost, but not quite, edging towards insanity.  Indeed, most of the characters appear average but through various twists and turns the families in Pagford and the Fields are slowly stripped of their protective veneers and laid bare, exposing their ugliness beneath.  Nothing is sacred and all manner of collective disorders appear from young and old alike as their every move is documented, every word faithfully recorded.  We see the truths and witness the unveiling of secrets, motivated by revenge via website hacking.

“As we know from the blurb, the book kicks in with the death of Barry Fairbrother who arrives at the golf club for dinner with his wife on their wedding anniversary and keels over in the carpark.  By all accounts, he’s a nice man and liked by many people considering he was a local Councillor on Pagford’s wheeling-dealing Parish Council.  His demise leaves a casual vacancy on the Council board and the fight over his seat begins.  The reader learns there’s a war going on between the communities of Pagford and Yarvil over maintenance of the Fields, a decrepit housing estate, and the closure of a methadone clinic.  Not much political correctness goes on in council chambers.

“There you have it, henceforth The Casual Vacancy seethes with social snobbery, underage excess, racism, drug addiction and the ever-present spectres of greed, selfishness, ignorance and cruelty.  But, hey, don’t let that put you off.  This story hooked me like a continually unfolding TV saga or radio play.  I’d put it down and then have to pick it up just to see what happens to Krystal Weedon and her dissipated mother Terri, or Howard Mollison and his new café, or the ill-fated relationship of Gavin Hughes and Kay Bawden.

“Social worker Kay is new to Pagford and not a big player but she’s hardworking, misguided and gullible and the one I wanted to shout at, tell her to grab her daughter and get out of town fast.  The others, like Simon Price, are set up to be despised with appalling behaviour behind closed doors.  Occasionally I grew tired of the angry men and the gossiping wives and found that the sabotaging teenagers had more diverse demeanours, although young Sukhvinder Jawanda is heart-rending.  Was the ending so predictable?  As this inharmonious story draws to a close, I know it’s all still happening in real life.

“What more can I say?  The Casual Vacancy is an adult novel and anyone who’s been around the block a few times will related to its adult themes.  Whether or not the right people read it and change their social attitudes is another thing.  Sure it’s a tad depressing but I’ll give J K Rowling full marks for moving on from Hogwarts and writing something completely different.”  Unquote.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2019


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Joanne Kathleen Rowling CH, OBE, HonFRSE, FRCPE, FRSL, better known by her pen name J. K. Rowling, is a British author, film producer, television producer, screenwriter and philanthropist. She was born 31 July 1965 in Yate, United Kingdom, and at the time of posting has written over 30 books of different genres. https://www.jkrowling.com/