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Thursday, January 2, 2014

Fiction Review: The Rabbit Back Literature Society

Books are strange and wonderful things. On the surface, they are nothing more than tiny stacks of aging pages, each defaced by a perplexing pattern of black marks. Hold them the right way, however, and those black marks not only begin to take on meaning, but reveal entire worlds that cannot physically exist between pages. What's more, while the black marks themselves are fixed, their structure is fluid, revealing a new, subtly different world for each and every reader.

It really is a sort of magic, and that's what Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen has attempted to capture with The Rabbit Back Literature Society.

This is a story about stories . . . about experiences . . . and about the memories that connect them. On the surface, it appears to be nothing more than a quirky little mystery, prompted by the disappearance of a beloved author. Look a little deeper, however, and it soon reveals itself to be a story about the people behind the stories, and a story about where the stories come from. It's a story which is almost solely concerned with spilling the truth behind those stories, the reality behind those memories, but one which spills no truths of its own, leaving the reader to decide what the stories mean.

While I think the story could have been a bit tighter, and I found the premise of 'The Game' a bit artificial, I can't deny that the story hooked me early on, and kept me reading right through to the end. What happened to Laura White? What's up with the 'plague' of altered library books? Who was the mysterious tenth member? What's with all the mythological statues? Some mysteries are solved outright, while other solutions are merely hinted at, but it all makes for a satisfying read.

In terms of characters, Ella is a bit cold and distant to serve as a truly engaging narrator, but her distance does serve its purpose. As for Martti, Ingrid, Aura, and the other Society members, their eccentricities are their personalities, and even if they're really just pieces of a human jigsaw puzzle, it's thoroughly entertaining to see how those pieces fit together. I didn't necessarily buy some of the relationships, particularly that of Ella and Martti, but that discomfort of a part of the overall story experience. As for Laura White herself, she's both the most enigmatic and most fascinating character in the whole tale, and the more we learn about her past, the more we almost want her to remain missing . . . lest her return somehow damage the memories we've created on her behalf.

Go into The Rabbit Back Literature Society looking for a straightforward bit of narrative prose, and you're likely to be disappointed. Prepare yourself instead for a multi-layered character study, and a sort of imaginative treatise on the act of writing (and remembering), and you'll find a lot to appreciate here. It's quirky and odd, as likely to make you raise your eyebrows as curl your lips, but it really does work. The ending is just about perfect, tying up some loose ends I was sure had been forgotten, but never forgetting that, for each reader, it must end just a little bit differently.


Paperback, 352 pages
Published November 21st 2013 by PUSHKIN PRESS

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the review. Now I understand why I have been confused a bit after reading the first chapter.

    ReplyDelete