Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Books – The Rabbit Back Literature Society, by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen

The Rabbit Back Literature Society was written by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen in 2006 and translated from Finnish last year). It is a wonderful and wonderfully bizarre book. The Society, are a select group of nine authors around the town of Rabbit Back, chosen as children by the eminent (and enigmatic) author Laura White, to be her protégés and tutees. Decades later, the members of the Society are adults and published writers. After Ella Milana, a young literature teacher, gets a short story published in a magazine, she somehow finds herself invited into the strange goings-on of the Society and caught up in the strange characters within it.

The writing is very good. It is clear, vivid, and funny, and if it is at times a little detached this narrative detachment works quite effectively. The shifting of tenses is a bit confusing and unnecessary, but this may be a translation issue. It’s possible the shifting between present and past tense might be more fluid and more effective in the original Finnish than now.

Nonetheless, the novel’s true strength is the characters and story – and the premise, I suppose. Or perhaps rather than premise I mean the tone. What I really like about The Rabbit Back Literature Society is the sort of underlying magic realism that never gets explained, and never really even gets questioned. I love that the novels in Laura White’s house and in the Rabbit Back library are rearranging themselves, that a plague of book mould is slowly messing with classic stories. It’s such a simple and yet powerful idea. And I love that we never quite understand Laura White, that the novel is constantly ambiguous without ever being too ambiguous. I suppose I mean I liked the randomness of this book, and the fact that its randomness never feels random, if that makes sense. I also love the idea of the Society’s mysterious Game. In general, the novel is just a fantastic idea. It is delightfully unexpected.