Say one thing for Jasper Fforde, he does what he wants. This is a quintessential 3.5 star book for me, but I was all set and ready to round this up to four stars until the ending happened and totally threw me for a loop. It’s not that I thought the ending was bad, more that I wasn’t expecting it and didn’t quite know how to process it. I may very well come back at some later date and round this up to four stars after I’ve sat with it a while.
This is a book in which fifty years previously, there occurred a “Spontaneous Anthropomorphic Event” in the UK that transformed eighteen rabbits into humanoid rabbits who can walk and talk and read and experience abstract thought, along with several weasels, foxes, guinea pigs, a Dalmatian, a badger, and a handful of bees (no one knows what happened to the bees). The book follows the social consequences of what that would look like, including a burgeoning rabbit population (rabbits maintain their early sexual maturation and quick gestation, among other things). Our main character is a white man in his fifties that works for a department of the government that governs rabbit society and criminality. He also happened to have a crush on a rabbit in college, and that rabbit has now become his next door neighbor.
This is simultaneously Fforde’s most bizarre, least funny, most serious book. It also was a bit off-putting for me at first because I dislike allegory, and the rabbits seemed designed to me to represent “racism”. Like Tolkien (who famously “cordially dislike[d] allegory”) once said, “I think that many confuse applicability with allegory, but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.” At the beginning of this book, it was really feeling like the latter rather than the former, but I’m glad I stuck with the book, because it ended up feeling much more open-ended and less heavy-handed. I think this was due to a combination of factors: 1) getting to know the characters and the world in specific, and 2) the way the premise opens up about halfway through when Fforde just casually throws it out that a lot of people in the world of the book believe that the Spontaneous Anthropomorphic Event had other origins:
“Although once a fringe idea, the notion that the Event might have been satirically induced was gaining wider acceptance.
‘The event does have all the trappings of satire,’ I said, ‘Although somewhat clumsy in execution.’
‘We live in unsubtle times,’ said Connie.”
There was something about this bonkers metaness that really blew the story open for me and I quite enjoyed myself after that. I stopped thinking of it as allegory and just went with it. Also, Fforde gets so delightfully specific about rabbit culture that it was hard to believe strict allegory was his intention. The ending kind of brought the heavy handedness back a bit, but it was also such a bonkers, unexpected ending that I’m not quite sure it didn’t work anyway.
An interesting read if nothing else!