I love reading Jasper Fforde because you find yourself catapulted into a parallel universe that’s often completely absurd. When that universe involves the neighbours being 6ft talking rabbits and the reader has a five foot white rabbit greeting guests at the front door it’s a match made in heaven. I have been fascinated with these beautiful creatures since I was six years old. We lived in the country and Dad worked on a farm. One evening I was just getting out of the bath, being dried by Mum, when Dad walked in with a tiny leveret he’d found on the edge of a field. It was the softest thing I had ever felt, and Dad let me hold him and keep him warm, while he found a suitable pen to pop him into until he’d recovered. From then on I have loved all long eared creatures and my favourite book of early childhood, The Velveteen Rabbit, still holds a special place in my heart. So, this book was on one level a charming, satirical story, but one with a darker undercurrent pertinent to the current times we live in and a past we must never forget.
Peter Knox is a single dad who works with the Rabbit Compliance Taskforce, an organisation policing the law as it pertains to our bunny friends. The world has undergone a Spontaneous Anthropomorphic Event. Now rabbits live alongside humans, but they are treated differently and have a different set of laws to their human counterparts. Most live in colonies together, known as living ‘within the fence’. These are countryside based zones with restricted movement, and although they’re free to come and go, this did made me think of my local gypsy community who live in a settled campsite on the edge of town. However, some live side by side with humans in town. In fact Peter’s own neighbour is a rabbit. Some live a more wild lifestyle, continuing the rabbit code of settling disagreements with duels and abusing the lethal cocktail dandelion brandy. Peter is one of few people who can tell the difference between settled rabbits, and their more problematic counterparts. In fact, his first love at university was a rabbit called Connie. When he bumps into her, the old feelings rekindle and as the attitude towards rabbits starts to turn he may find himself having to choose which side of the fence to be on.
The darker undercurrent comes from a Prime Minister, who isn’t as keen on the bunny population. He’d like to round them up and take them to a huge facility in Wales, known as the Mega Warren. It’s being sold as a great place to live, where all rabbits can feel safe and protected. His political party is named UKARP which stands for UK Anti Rabbit Party, so rabbits are suspicious of his motives. He simply wants segregation and this is the first step. In a great parallel to some of our current world leaders he is hopelessly inept and reliant on advisors and scary PR people as his henchmen. Fforde is making a thinly veiled criticism of the current political climate, with fake news and disinformation spread amongst the population. There is a worrying need to control and watch the rabbits abs a determination to see them as other. It can be a very dark satire in places and if we think back to other attempts to control and corral those seen as different the results are mass extermination,
Fforde is very clever not to let the book dip into something dystopian and dismal. There’s witty dialogue that made me smile to myself, and there are even some laugh out loud moments too. He pokes fun at our Britishness and our terribly polite use of understatement, as well as some political acronyms worthy of The Thick of It. This is a truly inventive read from an original writer with a great sense of humour,