Rabbit Back Literature Society Review
I read this book recently, it told me about the way I think. It told me about how nothing makes sense whilst being very entertaining and not trying to tell me anything. Afterwards, I went outside and slept under the apple tree wearing my story-trimmed cape. This is the time of nonsense. The time when the stories all mix up and flirt and dance and go home with the wrong person. This is the time when Helene Cixous whispers about earth and shit and sex all being one and Eleanor Roosevelt does the Hokey Cokey to a tuneless orchestra all dressed in lavender branches. In the garden is a phantom, but he’s only there when the rain drizzles and the frost gathers in the bird bath and the sun breaks through grey storm clouds. He seeks the cool, dark-green upper reaches of the conifer trees in the summer; where the crows perch. But for now, he is spinning through the un-pruned upper reaches of the apple tree and rubbing himself against the twisted lichens, chasing the passerines as they scatter. He ignores me, my face covered in moss and only the stories visible. Only when I wake up, do I try to grab the strands of his terrified tale. ~ Me
Set in a small Finnish town, The Rabbit Back Literature Society is a book about ghosts real and metaphorical. It’s also a brilliant dissection of the process of writing. A famous author takes nine school children she deems talented enough for her attention and teaches them how to look at the world from a writer’s point of view. Writing becomes their lives and at times their ruthless devotion appears pathological, they cannot conceive of any other career. Outside this small group are hundreds of other Rabbit Back inhabitants who write and form book groups, writing groups and fan clubs for the famous authoress Laura White and the successful writers. The Society is deemed a sure-fire way into the literary world and the rumour is that they’re looking for a tenth member. Ella, our heroine with the lovely curving lips and defunct ovaries, becomes that tenth member, but just before she has the glory of meeting her idol, Laura White, the famous authoress disappears in a tragic and wonderfully unbelievable accident. White is the ghost of the novel; she haunts the lives of the Society members she’s scarred with years of emotional abuse. The whole town is having dreams about her Zombie body coming to call and the books that were once loved by the children of Rabbit Back are getting thrown out, to exorcise the ghost of the writer. Ella starts to unravel the secret lives of White and the members through their own invention, The Game and you begin to see the misery, the selfishness and the dirt that goes into making these great writers. The Game hollows you out, allows the other player to steal your experiences for the purpose of writing as they “spill” everything, the truth; no embellishments; robbing you of your defences.
Not only does the book analyse what it means to write and the psychosis behind writing but it also explores the hyper-real of invented worlds and how sometimes they take on a lifeless life of their own. This reminded me a lot of the Moomin stories. Jannson’s beautifully surreal and expressive stories are often overshadowed by the cartoons and merchandise. The woods and gardens in Rabbit Back are full of wooden carvings of sprites and beasts that hide the real sprites and beasts that lurk there. There was a review on the dust jacket, comparing the book to Twin Peaks. It has the same uncertain horror of where it’s going to go and the mix of everyday “cup of Joe” ordinariness with the supernatural. Jääskeläinen invented the term Reaalifantasia to describe it, an off-shoot of magical realism.
Photograph by Luke Thompson