'The Constant Rabbit' by Jasper FForde is the first of two books that Monkey bought me for crimbo. We first discovered Jasper back in 2009 and although Thursday Next was great our enthusiasm petered out and I have not consumed his entire output. Constant Rabbit is a completely different world altogether. In it, fifty years previously, some miraculous Event has occurred and transformed a number of animals into sentient human-like-but-still-animal creatures. The rabbits are the most successful of these, if you think in terms of numbers, since they continue to reproduce like rabbits, but the human race has had a mixed reaction to the arrival of these new species. In the UK the government is now a nasty right wing party led by the despicable Smethwick that, while accepting some species (like the foxes and weasels), has turned against the rabbits and, accusing them of wanting to take over by eventually outnumbering the humans, is planning to intern them all in a mega warren.
"The rabbit issue used to be a friendly chat over tea and hobnobs in the old days, but the argument had, like many others in recent years, become polarised: if you weren't rabidly against rabbits, you were clearly in favour of timidly bowing down to acquiesce to the Rabbit Way, then accepting Lago as your god and eating nothing but carrots and lettuce for the rest of your life." (p.113)
Our hero, Peter Knox (rhymes with Fox) (though he is not a fox, he works for Mr Ffoxe) (pronounced fox) (and at one point I thought there is a wonderful allusion to Fox in Socks, but maybe that was just me), who discovers that the love of his youth, one Constance Rabbit, is back in his life as his new neighbour. Peter however works for the nasty RabCoT that oversees the lives of rabbits everywhere. Slowly he finds himself drawn into the rabbit's fight for autonomy, while trying to dupe his boss, and his leporiphobic local community, that he is still doing his job, and trying to persuade the rabbits to move out.
It is mostly a book about prejudice, which is basically just fear of anything different, and fear of change (sorry, that's a bit simplistic but it is sometimes the way it appears). It also touches on the idea of institutionalised prejudice, for example the laws that allow foxes to kill rabbits without consequence because that would be natural behaviour for them. Like Fforde's other books he makes a lovely complete world, like ours, but utterly different, and you are certainly being entertained while you are being educated.
Here Peter meets the Venerable Bunty (like a rabbit Dalai Lama) and Finkle (of the Rabbit Support Agency):
"The conversation stopped for a minute or two while the Venerable Bunty cut the hardly-squashed-at-all walnut cake, but soon picked up again as relearned that the Venerable Bunty was brought up in-colony and has been doing miracles since passing her GCSEs, so had been a shoo-in to take over as spiritual leader when the previous Bunty died, herself the fifth since the Event. Our meeting seemed chatty rather than focused and at one point I asked Finkle whether he wanted me to do anything.
'Not really,' he said. 'I just wanted to meet you. Get the measure of Connie's neighbour, see what he had to offer. Now that I have, I'd like you to play along with Mr Ffoxe. You can tell him about this meeting if you like. There's been no breach of the law, just a minor employment infraction on your behalf for talking to me.'
'Are you sure?' I asked, disappointed that I wasn't going to be of more use.
'We're sure,' said Finkle. 'You can tell him about Bunty too. Just give us four hours to make ourselves scarce before you do.'
'That's it?' I said.
So while we ate the excellent walnut cake that the Venerable Bunty's mother's sister's daughter's husband's son had baked, Venerable Bunty and Connie told us about life inside the colonies, which despite the lack of freedom and limited space were the only areas within the United Kingdom that ran themselves entirely on rabbit socio-egalitarian principles." (p.236-7)
It turns out that the rabbits do have other plans for Peter, in which he proves himself a better person than he thought he was, but you won't find any spoilers in this review (except now, so don't read this next bit).
Last little quote, just because I was amused by this, excellently apt, description of London:
" 'That's true,' said Lance, 'but the second circle of Lago is about restorative self-justice. Responsibility for one's errors, choice-consequences and transgressions. You didn't kill Mr Ffoxe, so you shouldn't go to prison. Luckily, it's relatively easy to outfox the British legal system. Your billionaires do it all the time. The way we see it, London is just one massive money-laundering scheme attached to an impressive public transport system and a few museums, of which even the most honest has more stolen goods than a lock-up garage in Worcester rented by a guy I know called Chalky.' " (p.284)
Sometimes you just need a fast paced plot with a surreal setting, and a happy ending (ish).
Stay safe. Be kind. See you tomorrow.