Friday, December 5, 2014

The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen (2014)

The Rabbit Back Literature Society opens with a startled reader being "first surprised, then shocked" when in an essay on Dostoyevsky the criminal Raskolnikov is shot by the hooker with the heart of gold, Sonya. The reader in question is Ella Amanda Milana, who was "twenty-six years old and the possessor of a pair of beautifully curving lips and a pair of defective ovaries, among other parts." Ella has recently returned to her parents' home in Rabbit Back and is working as a substitute language and literature teacher at the local high school. Ella asks the student author of the essay why he made up a different ending and he shows her his copy of the book, borrowed from the Rabbit Back Library, which ends just as he describes. Ella takes the book back to the library and sets of a chain of unexpected, surprising events.

Rabbit Back is an unusual town. It is home to the famous children's author Laura White. It is also a place steeped in mysticism; where goblins, elves and forest nymphs are erected in statue-form around the town and a common household gift. In Rabbit Back, you can get your garden mythologically mapped to find out what magical creatures exactly live there and how best to deal with them. Many years ago, Laura White began the titular literature society, taking nine children from the local school and teaching them how to be writers.  Each of these children became authors themselves but Laura White is still looking for the society's 10th member. After reading a story of Ella's in the Rabbit Track's literary section (entitled "Ten" in reference to the literature society), Ella is invited to join the group but, on the night when she was to be formally inducted into the group, Laura White vanishes in a sudden snowstorm, never to be heard of again. Ella then begins to investigate White, using  The Game - a sadomasochistic technique where drugs and pain are used to obtain the very truth - to discover different literature society member's views of Laura White. In the process she demonstrates how damaged the writers were by their training and discovers many strange and unusual things.

I feel I am not capturing the book very well! On its surface, The Rabbit Back Literature Society has a fast and involving plot that kept me compulsively turning pages. There were at least two nights where I fell asleep while reading the book, I was so unwilling to put it down! But beyond the plot, there is so much to ponder in this very entertaining read. It feels a lot like a fairy tale. I'm not sure how much of that is due to its Finnish literary traditions (it was translated by Lola Rogers) but it's the kind of book that you keep thinking about for days afterward, turning different bits over in your brain. I really enjoyed reading it. I am looking forward to reading more from this author. Four and a half stars.

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