Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (Trade Paperback – 2 July 2020)
Length: 307 pages
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
From the insanely creative mind of one of fiction’s cleverest authors, Jasper Fforde, comes The Constant Rabbit, an incredible comedic satire featuring human-sized anthropomorphic rabbits in an alternate version of modern-day England.
Jasper Fforde is an awesome and fantastically inventive author who has a very distinctive and enjoyable writing style. I have been a fan of Fforde’s work for years, and his Thursday Next books were a favourite series of mine when I was growing up (I should really go back and reread those). I was also lucky enough to receive a copy of his 2018 standalone novel, Early Riser, which was certainly one of the more unique and entertaining books that I read that year. While I do love Fforde’s writing, I have to admit that I was initially a little wary when I heard that his new book was going to be about rabbits as I assumed it was going to be a kids’ book. However, once I realised that it was going to be another crazy adult standalone novel, I made sure to get a copy, especially once I found out it was a satire on UK politics. I am extremely glad that I got a copy of this book as The Constant Rabbit turned out to be a truly remarkable novel with a complex and enjoyable story.
In the year 2020 there are over a million anthropomorphic rabbits living in the UK thanks to a mysterious event 55 years previously. These rabbits can walk, talk, think and have developed their own unique culture and society. While the rabbits on the whole are a polite and peaceful group, many in England, including the ruling United Kingdom Anti-Rabbit Party (UKARP), fear them and are planning to forcibly rehome them to a new Mega-Warren in Wales. Before the planned rehoming occurs, one rabbit family moves into the quiet and cosy village of Much Hemlock, much to the concern of the villagers. Convinced that this rabbit family will cost them their chance at the Best Kept Village award, the citizens of Much Hemlock attempt to force them out, but the family matriarch, Mrs Constance Rabbit, is having none of that and resolves to stay in the village.
Surprisingly, the rabbits soon find support from their neighbours, Peter Knox and his daughter, Pippa. Peter, an employer at the Rabbit Compliance Taskforce, the organisation tasked with policing and controlling the rabbit population, quickly becomes infatuated with Constance and begins to question everything that he thinks he knows about rabbits. However, with plans for the upcoming rehoming accelerating, Peter soon finds himself in the midst of a complex battle for freedom and control, and his actions will have surprising impacts on the entire future of the country.
Wow! Just wow! Now this was one hell of a fun read. Fforde has absolutely outdone himself with this latest book which proved to be an exceptional and amazingly clever piece of fiction. The Constant Rabbit is a captivating and widely entertaining novel that drags the reader in with its creativity and humour until they become enthralled with the unique story that it contains. I had an incredible time reading this book and I ended up laughing myself silly throughout it due to Fforde’s clever and distinctive style of humour. This book gets a full five stars from me and it truly was a thumping good tale.
The Constant Rabbit is told from the first-person perspective of human Peter Knox as he recounts some of the historical events he witnessed. This was a truly remarkable story that follows a mostly blameless and ordinary small-village inhabitant as he navigates a complex and controversial world of rabbits and rabbit-hating humans. This turns into quite a compelling tale about a battle for freedom, recognition and human stupidity, as the protagonist witnesses both sides of the struggle. There are some great moments of drama, excitement, action, and romance throughout the book, which come together extremely well in a compelling and entertaining manner. Fforde features some unique story elements throughout this book and introduces the reader to a series of enjoyable characters who are caught up in these crazy events. These memorable characters include Constance Rabbit, a resourceful and clever rabbit who serves as a major moving part of the plot and the protagonist’s main love interest. There is also a Lugless, an outcast rabbit who, after having his ears cut off in a ceremonial fashion, has turned against his own kind and now works for the Rabbit Compliance Taskforce, and Mr Ffoxe, an anthropomorphised fox, who serves as the book’s vicious main antagonist and the head of the taskforce. However, most of the character development is reserved for main protagonist Peter Knox, who goes through some serious redemption throughout the course of the story following some troubling events in his past. His association with his rabbit neighbours really changes him, especially once he starts to see how crooked and petty humans are in comparison, resulting in him making some surprising decisions. This is a gripping narrative and I really enjoyed all the wonderful and weird directions that the author took it.
Another fantastic aspect of The Constant Rabbit is the distinctive and intelligent sense of humour that permeates every page of this book. I personally found this novel to be deeply funny, and I ended up laughing myself silly at several awesome jokes. Much of the humour revolves around the ridiculous situations, the outrageous personalities, and the clever parodies of life in modern day England, all of which are considered normal in this version by the characters. Seeing these various events or people occur in the novel is itself entertaining, but when combined with the witty and dry observations of the protagonist, the rabbit characters or the narrator through his footnotes, it becomes an absolute riot of fun and comedy. There are some amazingly funny jokes and sequences throughout this book, although the part I laughed the hardest at had to be a farcical murder trial in which a man’s innocence or guilt was determined by whether they had brought an owl with them to the murder scene. Other great jokes included lines about the rabbits’ inability to tell humans apart (most rabbits apparently cannot tell the difference between Brian Blessed and a gorilla), fun observations about rabbits in popular culture (spoilers, the rabbits are unimpressed) and the inclusion of rabbit versions of films and books. I also had to have a laugh at the author’s description of a potential anthropomorphic event occurring at the city of Goulbourn in Australia (which is quite near to me), and all I have to say about that is I very much doubt my government could organise a secret massacre of a group of drunken wombats, much less hunt down a whistleblowing sheep. That being said, the Big Merino statue in Goulbourn does totally exist and it is the town’s defining feature (which tells you quite a lot about what life in Goulbourn must be like).
One of the things that I most like about Fforde’s books is the way that he comes up with a whole new alternate universe for each of his works. All his works are set in alternate versions of England that is specific to that series, all with a number of noticeable differences between the fictional and real worlds. The version of England that The Constant Rabbit is set in was altered by an unexplained event 55 years earlier that turned a group of rabbits (as well as some other animals) into human-sized sentient beings who have gone on to create a large society of over one million rabbits which has its own culture and ideals. This in turn has led to a much different version of the UK, with significant social and political differences as humanity tries to come up with new ways to adapt to the rabbits. This is such a fantastic and out-there concept, but it works surprisingly well as a setting for this amazing and clever story. There are so many intricate details associated with this new, rabbit inhabited England, and Fforde does an outstanding job welding together this new universe and showcasing all of its features. While several key elements of this new world were introduced right at the start of the book, many were not identified until later, when they became relevant to the plot of the story. I felt that this was a great way of presenting all the major aspects of this world, as it ensured that the reader was not overwhelmed right off the bat. Fforde also includes a number of footnotes and short, out of narrative paragraphs at the start of each chapter, to provide intriguing and often hilarious anecdotes and descriptions of parts of rabbit culture or other inclusions from this world. All the clever inclusions and distinctive variations from the real world prove to be a fascinating and entertaining part of the book and I had a wonderful time seeing what wacky and inventive things Fforde would come up with next.
Another thing that I really appreciated about this book was the way that Fforde used his overly ridiculous story and setting to successfully satirise racist politics in modern day England. Anyone even vaguely familiar with some of the political and cultural issues in the UK will really appreciate what Fforde is trying to achieve with his story, and there are some great parables throughout it. The whole ‘us vs them’ mentality surrounding the issues of rabbit rights is a clear send-up of racism and anti-immigration policies and mentalities that have infected the country. Having peaceful, hardworking and tolerant rabbits and their supporters be targeted by bigoted idiots is very relevant and you cannot help but think of real-world examples of such behaviour. The ruling UK political party, UKARP, is an obvious parody of the right-wing party UKIP, equipped with its own version of Nigel Farage. Fforde really does not pull any punches and portrays them as an incompetent, intolerant, and power-hungry political party who are determined to forcibly rehome and contain all the rabbits as their main political ideal. This book contains some terrifying, if probably accurate, depictions about how a ruling party like UKARP would act when it came to people it did not like, such as putting the ultimate anti-rabbit group (in this case anthropomorphised foxes) in charge of control and monitoring the rabbits. There are some other great elements of satire throughout this book, and English readers in particular will probably get the most out of The Constant Rabbit as a result. Overall, I thought it was a great piece of satirical fiction and I had a blast seeing the author highlight all these social issues in his own special way.
The Constant Rabbit is an outstanding and incredible novel that proves to be boundlessly entertaining and deeply funny. Jasper Fforde did an incredible job writing this novel and readers are in for an awesome and memorable read that will have them laughing for hours. This is such an impressive and inventive novel, and I am highly recommending it to anyone who is after a boundlessly entertaining read that contains a real sense of comedic fun and some excellent satirical observations.