Time for a Read-it-if and if you are open-minded enough to dive into an adult fiction, magical realism-based, English translation from a Finnish author, then you’ve come to the right place! I have had my beady eyeballs on The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen for quite a considerable amount of time and when it popped up on Netgalley for Australian reviewers I jumped on it quick smart. Having read it, I’m a bit bemused at least as much by the fact that it is the first book featuring magical realism that I really got into and enjoyed, as by the perversely amusing (and disturbing) events of the narrative. Off we go then.
The Rabbit Back Literature Society was founded by famous children’s author Laura White to identify and mentor promising young writers in the Finnish town of Rabbit Back, in the hope that they would one day become Finland’s most prominent authors. With nine members being selected as children, it comes as a surprise to everyone when Ella Milana – a secondary school literature teacher on a temporary contract – is selected decades later as the Society’s tenth member. But during the welcome soiree, Laura White mysteriously disappears in front of most of the folk of Rabbit Back, and Ella Milana is left in the dark about her place in the Society – except for the slightly sinister Game that all members are invited to play. As Ella Milana engages her fellow society members in The Game, old wounds and forgotten secrets are brought to light, and the mystery of Laura White’s dramatic exit becomes the least of anyone’s worries.
* you like writing. Or snacking at all hours. Or dogs. Or snacking at all hours while writing, as the neighbourhoods’ dogs mass outside your front gate.
* you enjoy Finnish humour. (Unsure if you enjoy Finnish humour? Read this book and find out)
* you like the idea of a book plague, wherein books start infecting other books with their stories and jumbling up the original narrative
* you’d love the opportunity to really ask your favourite author some tough and revealing questions and have them give a completely truthful response
I have had a reasonably poor relationship with novels dealing in magical realism, it must be said. This one however, I truly enjoyed. I suspect it’s because there is a very nice balance between the magical and the realism here – the magical bit permeates a lot of the story, but it does so politely, so that I didn’t feel jerked around with random weird stuff happening at random unexpected moments for no reason at all. I also tend to have a pretty ordinary relationship with translations, but this one hit the spot in my opinion.
To be honest, I don’t think this book is going to appeal to everyone. For a start, it felt like a hefty read to me (although as I was reading it on the Kindle I couldn’t tell how fat the actual printed book is) and one that would best be read over a period of time, rather that devoured quickly. There’s also a fair few bits in which the reader must suspend their disbelief (there’s the magical realism bit, rearing its magically realistic head). And ultimately, not all the loose ends are tied up by the book’s conclusion. In fact, hardly any of them are.
But for some reason, the combination of offbeat (and often dark) humour, the unfamiliar experience of reading about Finnish characters, and the multiple twists and turns in the narrative made this a pretty satisfying read for me. The characters are simultaneously completely believable and downright unlikely and I admit to developing a soft spot for Marti Winter, the once-handsome, now obese author of note, who enjoys elaborate pastries, suffers from various social phobias and is inexplicably plagued by dogs. I would certainly give this one a go if the blurb interests you. There was a lot of tidbits in it that I found unaccountably funny and there were also a few bits where I was mildly disgusted but overall this book was original enough in storyline and just odd enough (without becoming too strange) in content to get my tick of approval.
The downside of enjoying this book of course is that now Goodreads seems to be recommending a whole lot of books written in Finnish. I did mention this was a translation, right? Goodreads, please take note.
Until next time,