Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit …

4 May

… you’ve got more rabbit than Sainsbury’s. It’s time you got it off your chest’ – sang sang Chas and Dave back in 1980. In that song they alluded to the use of the term ‘rabbit’ in its meaning of talking a lot. ‘You don’t half rabbit on’ And in his conversation with festival organiser Matt Holland, author Jasper Fforde suggested that’s one interpretation we can extract from the title of his latest tome, The Constant Rabbit. The notion being that we talk a lot – but perhaps without ever making any substantial changes.

Mr Fforde is clearly fond of, and has great fun with, parallel universes, anthropomorphic characters and allegory to make social commentary. So he set his Thursday Next series of books in a rather fab sounding alternative Swindon where Swindonians keep Dodos as pets, have a monorail and the Seven Wonders of Swindon – though with the demolition of the Double Helix of Carfax it’s now six and a heap of rubble. Meanwhile Fforde packs his Nursery Crimes series to the rafters with anthropomorphic characters and Shades of Grey is a commentary on class structure and strictures – and colour. In The Constant Rabbit it seems you’ll find all that combined.

A short synopsis

There are 1.2 million human-sized rabbits that can walk, talk, and drive cars. They are living in the UK and one family of rabbits decides to stay put in a cosy little village. Their neighbours come to question everything they’d ever thought about their friends, their nation, and their species. . . ‘

So, what we have here is an allegorical novel that I don’t doubt will be as bonkers and as funny as the Thursday Next and Nursery Crimes novels. But whereas actual rabbits have a soft underbelly the same isn’t true of the book – or indeed the anthropomorphic rabbits in it. Fforde uses them, as he told Matt Holland, to teach humans about humanity. A lesson we we seem incapable of learning. 

In the novel, humans and rabbits share the same space/country. They started out as a small and acceptable number. But then they bred – like rabbits – and became less welcome and pushed to the fringes of society. There are even plans to put them in a special warren/camp in Wales. ‘You know what rabbits are like. With their breeding and their vegan agenda. We’ll be overrun. They’re not like us.’  Sounding familiar?

The hero of the piece …

… is a human character called Peter Knox with a rabbit couple as next door neighbours. Peter has history with Constance – the rabbit wife. The pair had a thing going in their youth and the flame still mutually burns – another reading on the constant of the title. Constance is constant in her feelings for Peter Knox.

Fforde explained, in his conversation with Matt, how the novel forces Peter to ask the difficult questions we should ask ourselves about how we as humans treat other humans and how we treat animals. And the notion of Britishness gets tackled too.

Through this allegory, Fforde examines the misunderstandings between rabbits and humans. And, by extension, the misunderstandings we have about those that are other to us.

But why rabbits?

Well, there’s the fact that they make for good proxy humour. Fforde says the book should make you laugh out loud but should also make you think. That aside, Fforde used rabbits because we have such a confused relationship with them. On the one hand they’re much-loved family pets. But we also experiment on them and view them as pests that we must exterminate. And, bringing us back to Chas and Dave, we eat them.

Thus it’s easy to see how our muddled lapine relationship transfers well to the allegorical plot of The Constant Rabbit

To watch Matt’s interview with Jasper Fforde see the top of this piece. And buy the book here. And then – hop it!

Words by Angela Atkinson.

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