I opened this novel looking for light relief. Ah, Jasper Fforde is funny, I thought. This will be a space to escape from the crazy days we’re living in. And yes, in some ways, it is. Imagining a world in which spontaneous Events create anthropomorphised animals – elephants in Africa, kangaroos in Australia, foxes, weasels, and crucially rabbits in the UK. The animals tend to grow into more humanoid physical forms and be able to communicate in human languages as well as their own.
After one such event in England, the United Kingdom now lives in a state of political turmoil due to the rapidly growing rabbit population. With such fast breeding times, an entirely different religious and social system, the rabbits, once miracles, are now seen as a threat and treated as invaders who steal jobs, land, and traditional values. The UK Anti-Rabbit Party is the main government party and there is a special Rabbit Compliance Taskforce. Sound familiar?
Peter Knox is a single man living with his daughter in the small town of Much Hemlock in Hereford. Apart from having been left by his wife, and recruited secretly to work for the Rabbit Compliance Taskforce due his innate ability to distinguish rabbit features with accuracy i.e. he is one of the rare humans who can tell rabbits apart – as a spotter, the most exciting part of Peter’s life is speed librarying, in which a team has to return and check out all the books required by the local population in the strict six minute time limit allowed for the library to be open (due to cuts, shortages etc.). It is during one of these crazy speed librarying visits that Connie appears.
Connie is a rabbit Peter knew at college. A rabbit he went to films with. A rabbit he had feelings for.
The inhabitants of Much Hemlock are not impressed with the encounter and very skeptical of Peter’s relationship with this rabbit who has just bought the house opposite Peter. Much Hemlock want rabbits out and are prepared to use Peter as a negotiator to bribe Connie and her family out of their home and their town.
Peter’s work as a spotter for the Rabbit Compliance Taskforce is also soon forcing him to become entangled with his neighbours who are suspected members of the rabbit resistance and all of this is made more complicated by Peter’s role in a previous Taskforce operation that ended in the death of Connie’s first husband.
There are many plots and confusing entanglements as Peter tries to please everyone, keep his job secret, and somehow manage to muddle through with his pension intact. As the government build a Mega-Warren in Wales so large it hopes to keep the rabbits happy and separate from human society – their old warren proving not large enough – Peter is forced to take a step out of his comfortable, middle-class, middle-of-the-road life and choose which way his morals and politics lies.
Satirical in ways that feel both funny and painful, The Constant Rabbit is never quite what you imagine it will be. A fast and gripping read, you will bounce right through it, looking, as the rabbits do, for some way to find the humanity in humankind and to return to a symbiotic relationship with nature. If you’ve liked his previous work, you will love this.
I’ll be reviewing Sisters by Daisy Johnson next.