Books I've Read: The Constant Rabbit
To be upfront: Jasper Fforde is easily my favorite author, so I am a bit biased.
As an out-of-the-closet Book Person, people regularly ask me who my favorite author is, and when I reply Fforde, they ask me what he writes, and that question stumps me.
I used to try to explain that he writes some combination of absurdism with Sci-Fi and Fantasy elements in terms of setting, but the tone is always very deadpan and modern, and my curious audience would smile and nod before changing the subject. I recently realized that his books fall into the same format more or less of "middle aged protagonist works in some bureaucratic agency in a fun house mirror version of the UK that deals with an absurd problem (but treated as mundane in the universe of the story) until the protagonist realizes that something is Off."
In the Nursery Crimes series, the protagonist deals with crime among the nursery rhyme character inhabitants of the town. In the Thursday Next series, the protagonist works in the literary crimes division of law enforcement. And in The Constant Rabbit, the protagonist works in the law enforcement agency that oversees the sentient humanoid rabbit population.
Let me be clear though: this formulaic similarity hardly means his books follow a formula. Quite the contrary actually. While I pride myself on being able to predict movies, TV shows, and books, Fforde's books frequently cause me to exclaim aloud a confused "What?!" Fforde is aggressively original in his world building and plot creation.
But this is supposed to be a book review, not a rant about my favorite author. Back to the point.
The Constant Rabbit delivers the impossible: an emotionally engaging and interesting narrative that is also a very preachy satire.
About the narrative: it is delivered with all the wit humor of Fforde's usual style. The characters are complex and relatable as they navigate their absurd situation. The world building can feel like a lot at times, but Fforde paces it well, so the story doesn't get bogged down or the readers don't feel confused. From just a story standpoint, it is a lovely and enjoyable read.
The satire though is what has pushed this book to the top of my list of favorites.
The satire and allegory of the book is so unsubtle that several characters remark on their situation seeming satirical. Fforde's other works have satirized elements of our world - The Goliath Corporation of the Thursday Next realm is a clear parody and warning about out of control capitalist corporations and the Un-United Kingdom of the Shades of Grey world was indeed published before Brexit, so it was satire until it became reality - but none of his works have made the satire such an integral part of the plot.
And while I stopped listening to sermons from white men a long time ago, The Constant Rabbit delivers a lesson a lot of us white people need to hear.
I'll try to highlight the part stuck in my head without spoiling anything:
The Big Conflict is preparing to start and our privileged protagonist has decided to join the Good Cause. As final preparations are being made and strategies are being discussed, he is sat at a table and told to make cucumber sandwiches. He doesn't hold the solution to the conflict, he isn't able to broker peace, and he doesn't give a rallying speech. He sits down and makes cucumber sandwiches.
I think a lot of us would be a lot more helpful to the causes of the world if we could sit down and just make cucumber sandwiches when we are told to.