Jasper Fforde



307pp/$16.99/September 2020

The Constant Rabbit
Cover by Thomas Colligan

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

While Jasper Fforde is best known for his Thursday Next series and the related Nursery Crimes books, he has also pursued other ideas, offering his own gonzo take on color in Shades of Gray and human hibernation in Early Riser. His latest novel, The Constant Rabbit also strikes out on its own and, despite revolving on the concept of anthropomorphized rabbits (and foxes, bears, and some other creatures), it may be the most topical novel Fforde has published.

In the mid-1960s, an event occurred which caused rabbits in England (as well as a handful of other species) to become anthropomorphized, sort of like real life version of Bugs Bunny. Several years on, rabbits have attempted to find their place in English society, but find themselves coming up against strong anti-rabbit sentiment from organizations like TwoLegsGood and the UKARP political party which has managed to go from being a seemingly negligible niche party to becoming the majority party in Parliament and being able to enforce their anti-rabbit agenda.

Peter Knox is living in Herefordshire, leading a quiet life working for RabCoT, the Rabbit Compliance Taskforce, as a spotter, one of the few humans who was able to distinguish between individual rabbits. Although Peter feels he is much more liberal than the majority of his neighbors in the village of Much Hemlock, he has not come to terms with his own complicity in anti-rabbitism and excuses his role as simply a cog in the machine that would be taken by someone else who might be more enthusiastic about identifying rabbits if he weren't there.

Through Peter and his more malevolent neighbors, Victor and Norman Mallett, as well as the other members of RabCoT, Fforde offers a powerful exploration of racism and neutrality. When he learns that his new neighbors are Clifford and Connie Rabbit, the latter a close friend of his from college, and he begins to see how they are viewed by both RabCoT and his neighbors, he begins to realize his own complicity. When his daughter, Pippa, makes friends with Connie's daughter and possibly becomes involved in the rabbit underground, Peter discovers that his acquiescence is no longer tenable.

Fforde does stack the deck in his favor. His lagomorph characters, as well as rabbit society as a whole, tend to be noble and likable. The UKARP Prime Minister Nigel Smethwick is a malevolent Boris Johnson and his enforcers are anthropomorphized foxes and weasels. Knox's human neighbors are depicted as hidden racists who are more concerned with winning awards for maintaining a perfect English village, but their underbelly is shown when they decide it is time to do something about the rabbit interlopers.

Writing in England, Fforde's primary target would seem to be Johnson and there are plenty of comments about Brexit, but it is difficult, if not impossible, to see parallel's in the treatment of rabbits in Knox's Herefordshire with Donald Trump's immigration policy in the U.S. and the manner in which minorities are treated. The fact that this treatment is not unique to any one country only strengthens the unfortunate universality of Fforde's message.

Despite the focus on racism (speciesism) in The Constant Rabbit, the novel is quite appealing, in large part due to Peter's understanding of his own role in society and his ability to acknowledge and learn from his mistakes. The rabbits and their society are a little on the utopian side with a few interesting quirks to make them interesting. The Constant Rabbit is a suitable addition to Fforde's work, taking him in a more serious, but still uniquely idiosyncratic direction.

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