I wasn’t sure what to expect of Rabbit Back Literature Society. The whimsical cover had comments such as “unnerving, enigmatic”, “unexpected, thrilling and absurd” and “a lobster pot of a book”.
Rabbit Back Literature Society was written by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen and translated from Finnish by Lola Rogers. That it was published by one of my favourite publishers, Pushkin Press, was enough to convince me to give it a try.
It turned out to be more than what I expected. It’s delightful and bizarre with a heady dose of fantasy, humour and mystery. I was hooked from page one.
The protagonist, Ella Amanda Milana is a substitute teacher with “a pair of beautifully curving lips and a pair of defective ovaries”. She is an aspiring author living in a small Finnish town called Rabbit Back. She gets closer to realising her literary dream after being chosen by celebrated children’s writer, Laura White to be the final member of the exclusive Rabbit Back Literature Society. Here’s her chance to be groomed by the town’s celebrated author.
Except things turn awry and she ends up investigating the society and its privileged members.
Memories are put to the test. By playing a sadistic “Game”, the members extract intimate experiences, painful moments and darkest secrets from one other.
There’s more than meets the eye in this adventure steeped in the literary world of a small town. Just when I thought I was on to something, an unexpected revelation comes up.
For instance, the epiphany that led one of the main characters Martti Winter towards obesity:
Winter had had a moment of enlightenment… An individual’s life was based on, and geared towards, eating. Everything else was of secondary value. Even sex was only important from the standpoint of continuation of the species, and continuing the species was one thing that the individual known as Martti Winter had no intention of taking on.
He didn’t long for death. His problem was thinking too much. He was always over-thinking things, and it was sapping his strength, day by day…
Winter had hit on something important: the happiest people were the ones who existed as little more than dimly conscious food-ingestion devices that enjoyed the occasional orgasm. Intelligence and thinking were really only needed for acquiring food. Once a person’s belly was full and he had some food stored close by, thinking was reduced to a minimum and worries and needs could gradually be forgotten entirely.
So Winter escaped from the world and excessive thinking into his kitchen, his monastery. He only had to devote himself to eating, he needn’t worry about anything else – not his unfinished novel, or dogs, or women, or the origins of the universe or the meaning of life. And he knew that in the end he wouldn’t regret his sausagey fingers, or even his penis, left behind on the other side of his expanding corporeal self.
I was sorry when I turned the last page. Rabbit Back Literature Society is definitely one of the most fun, quirky and brilliant reads I’ve had in a while.