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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

The Rabbit Back
Literature Society


by
Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Rabbit Back Literature Society



Title: The Rabbit Back Literature Society
Author: Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen
Genre: Novel
Written: 2006 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 343 pages
Original in: Finnish
Availability: The Rabbit Back Literature Society - US
The Rabbit Back Literature Society - UK
The Rabbit Back Literature Society - Canada
The Rabbit Back Literature Society - India
  • Finnish title: Lumikko ja yhdeksän muuta
  • Translated by Lola Rogers

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Our Assessment:

B+ : creative tale of creative tale-telling

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 15/11/2013 James Lovegrove
Independent on Sunday . 1/12/2013 Brandon Robshaw
The Telegraph . 2/12/2013 Catherine Taylor


  From the Reviews:
  • "Hints of Let the Right One In and Haruki Murakami’s elliptical early science fiction novels flavour a creepy tale about mutating books, buried secrets and ghostly encounters." - James Lovegrove, Financial Times

  • "It’s hard to convey the peculiar atmosphere of this novel -- absurd but believable, sinister but enjoyable, beautiful but disquieting." - Brandon Robshaw, Independent on Sunday

  • "This wonderfully knotty novel, the first of its Finnish author’s works to be translated into English, is a peculiar metafiction, a very grown-up fantasy masquerading as quirky fable. Unexpected, thrilling and absurd, it is primarily an irreverent exploration of the art of writing itself, of how far a tale can credibly stretch." - Catherine Taylor, The Telegraph

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The 'Rabbit Back Literature Society' of the title is a group that was set up in 1968 by the most famous of the writers from the Finnish town of Rabbit Back, Laura White, author of the internationally acclaimed and popular Creatureville books. Young children who she thought were promising writers were brought into the group and became her protégés -- all going on to become fairly successful in their own right. Nine of them have been members of the famous group since the first years of its existence, but when the novel opens, almost four decades on, White has finally decided to invite a new member to study under her: Ella Amanda Milana, a twenty-six year-old substitute teacher who is back in Rabbit Back, her hometown, on assignment when she hears the news.
       As it turns out, Ella is not the first tenth member of the group: back in the earliest days there had been another, a young boy who was acknowledged as the most promising in the group, a prodigy who died before he could make much of a mark. Ella's present-day joining the group doesn't go that well either: no sooner is she to be introduced into the fold than Laura White disappears -- in rather sensational manner, and right before very many eyes. But then Rabbit Back is an odd sort of place, where the unusual isn't that unusual: for example, the novel opens with an example of a 'book plague' afflicting local tomes, wherein the contents of printed books mutate -- making for some very different outcomes to well-known classics.
       Local librarian Ingrid Katz is also a member of the Rabbit Back Literature Society -- and the person trying to keep the book plague in check (and under wraps: not a secret she wants revealed); as such, she also burns a lot of books ..... Ella first comes into contact with her because of an affected text -- Crime and Punishment suddenly playing out quite differently -- but soon they're also Society-colleagues. Unfortunately, without the disappeared White, Ella doesn't get much mentoring -- and the other group members also don't seem to very close, often keeping a wary distance from one another.
       Still, Ella is an official member of the group, and among the privileges of the group is the ability to play The Game, wherein members can challenge one another (albeit only at certain times -- leading to many barricading themselves in during those periods to avoid challenges) and the two duelists then each get to ask one question of the other. Plain old answers won't do: the subjects 'spill', completely baring their souls -- "you leak out whatever is deepest within you, nothing more and nothing less" -- in a draining confessional game that leaves the participants completely exhausted. Ella takes advantage of the game to try to find out more about the Society -- and about the mysterious first tenth member, and what became of him.
       The nature of The Game also explains a lot about the way members behave towards each other: as one of them explains to Ella:

You see, people dress themselves in stories, but The Game strips us naked at the first handshake. That's why we older members don't really enjoy each other's company. Elias Kangasniemi once described The Game as psychic strip poker around a glass table.
       Still, these sessions also helped inspire some of their stories -- and new blood and new experiences do tempt them again. Trying to avoid being challenged -- and the complex relationships between the authors -- also add to the games they play amongst themselves.
       From the odd setting -- the town has no less than six other writers' associations, and while there's only one florist in town, seven shops specialize in the omnipresent mythological figurines representing the characters from White's Creatureville-books -- and the mysteries of the place, ranging from White's disappearance to the town dogs (creepily) all congregating in one place, there's a sinister backdrop to much of the novel. Far from an idyllic place, Rabbit Back is profoundly unsettling. As Ella's investigations reveal more the tension rises, too. Jääskeläinen handles all this nicely, both in giving this often surreal place (what with the book-changing plague and so on) a surprisingly real feel, and in a quite surprising but very nice resolution.
       As one member of the Society says:
Everybody knows that no healthy person would take up writing novels. Healthy people do healthy things. All this darned hoopla and hot air about literature -- what is it really but mental derangement run through a printing press ?
       But, despite the book-burning (to rid them of the plague) and some of the authors' more questionable and quirky traits, this is a literature-loving and -affirming novel, with a particular focus on the human aspect of the creative prospect: what of ourselves -- and of others -- we put in our stories, with Jääskeläinen managing that aspect particularly well.
       The Rabbit Back Literature Society is certainly an unusual book. Impressively, Jääskeläinen avoids letting on just where he's going with all this for most of the book, and both the smaller stories and the larger one are entertaining and even quite charming.
       A nice little success.

- M.A.Orthofer, 13 January 2014

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Links:

The Rabbit Back Literature Society: Reviews: Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Finnish author Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen was born in 1966.

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© 2014 the complete review

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