The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen
My rating: ✯✯✯✯
This was an interesting little book. It is set in Finland, which I can't say I have read about before.
Rabbit Back is a town where we find Ella Milana, possessor of beautifully curving lips. She is a substitute literature teacher, and her newest assignment brings her home to stay with her parents. We soon find out that the town is famous for being the birthplace of Laura White, children's novelist of the series Creatureville. Laura White created a group called the Rabbit Back Literature Society, whose members she hand-picked for their writing ability. It was her ambition to turn these hopeful kids into novelists, and that is exactly what has happened. Years later, there are whispers of who will become the tenth and final member of the Society. A folder of children's essays is kept at the local school for Laura White to peruse, if she wishes to find a new member. However, to Ella Milana's surprise, it is her submission to the local newspaper's fiction feature that earns her a place in the esteemed group. She cannot believe it, but is very excited and proud to attend a welcoming ceremony in her honour. She is to be personally welcomed in front of the people of the town by Laura White at the famous author's own home. In the middle of the party, Laura White disappears into thin air in front of everyone, and in her place a snowstorm rages through the house, smashing windows and attacking guests. Nobody can fathom what has happened to Laura White, but Ella is still technically a member of the Society - and the journey she is taken on as a member is eye-opening to say the least.
I went into this novel not knowing what to expect. At first, I did enjoy the idea of a famous novelist. We get to know Ella herself, and that she does not think a lot of herself and her flaws. Her mother cares for her father who has something like Alzheimer's disease, but rather than talk to her mother, Ella is rather introverted and keeps to herself. She finds out that something strange is happening to the books at the library - the stories in the novels are changing, somehow. The plots are becoming completely unrecognisable. When Ella mentions this to the librarian, who is also Society member and author Ingrid Katz, she says that the book must be taken out of circulation immediately, and no more is said on the matter. It is an intriguing mystery to start off the novel. Ella is certainly the type of character who will not give up until she finds all the answers.
The real "meat" of the book comes when Ella becomes a member of the Rabbit Back Literature Society, and finds out about something called The Game, which members play between themselves secretly. This allows her to get to know her fellows in intimate detail. I should not say more, or it'll ruin the story for you.
This was a book that was hard to pin down. I didn't really know what the genre was, or what the goal was of the narrative. I didn't know where it was leading. There were a fair few questions which were never answered, but by the end that doesn't really matter. I would like to have known more about Laura White's life. She's so very enigmatic and such strange things happened around her. I think this would be called Literary Fiction, but there were definitely senses of mystery, magic and fantasy woven into the narrative. Some of the relationships that Ella forms with other Society members are strange to say the least. We never really get to know them, which is a very strange feeling, seeing as we get to know very private details. It feels like there is never a full picture of anyone, and it feels like Ella hardly knows herself anyway. Perhaps that vague feeling we have when reading is because of Ella's uncertainty and reserved nature.
None of the characters were particularly my favourite. I thought the society members were rather cruel to one another and there was no wonder that they stopped talking to each other. However, despite this unpleasantness, there was still plenty to keep me hooked, to keep me reading. The paragraphs/chapters did a good job of making me want to know what happens next. We would be given a taste of something, which would later be revisited. It was like being delicately drawn into an intrigue. I very much liked the idea of the books evolving, becoming new stories. I did appreciate the writing style used - thank you very much, translator. It just felt very weird all the time. I would recommend reading this, just to see what you think of it. It is intelligently written and has a mysterious feel to it without ever getting too close to anyone, and will keep you guessing.
This review was written by guest blogger Jemma
Image via goodreads.com