Book Review: The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen

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Recommended by Becki of awordshaker.com

Small town of Rabbit Back has been in the spotlight since the 1970s, when resident Laura White published a series of children’s books that exploded all over the world (think Harry Potter). White was the one who started the Rabbit Back Literature Society – the ten children who possessed a special kind of writing talent. Twenty years later, there are only nine members left, and each and every one of them is now a famous writer. Local literature grad student and teacher Ella Milana is the first person in years to be accepted into the Society. However, on the night of her initiation, Laura White disappears, leaving a trail of lies, unfinished manuscripts and mysterious book diseases behind her. Ella Milana is a naturally inquisitive creature and wastes no time (actually, she wastes quite a bit of time on things that will become relevant in the narrative eventually) in launching an investigation for her thesis on Laura White. After a little time, however, she realises that the Society is nowhere near as glamorous as it appears to the Rabbit Back residents. First, there is The Game – a sinister game that Ingriz Katz, Martti Winter and other members of the Society like to play at night. Second, there appears to be an outbreak of the book plague in Rabbit Back – offending presences of irregularities in Dostoyevsky’s books, which offend Ella greatly. Third, all Society members for some reason insist on keeping quiet about the mysterious tenth member. Can Ella figure out the secrets of the Rabbit Back Literature Society or will she get in too deep, losing herself in the process?

 

I’ve had this book on my Kindle for almost a year – I need to be in a special kind of mood for these kinds of literary mysteries.

Was it worth the wait?

Absolutely.

Though the book starts quite slowly and… oddly, especially for a daughter of a Russian Literature professor like me, which almost caused me to put it down, the particularities are explained later and you are pulled into the world of literature, Finnish mythology and Russian classics that serve as important plot devices, and the madness – the kind of madness only a writer understands. I am a writer, so I definitely got a lot out of this book. Most pages have at least one memorable quote about books or writing that made my heart flutter in understanding – I related to this book a lot. Which is probably not a very good thing! The Game is a particularly horrifying, yet understandable concept – “writers are the crocodiles in the river”, “the vultures”. “The Rabbit Back Literature Society” does not gloss over the dark side of writing; the members of the Society know very well, thanks to both The Game and their very nature, that “no healthy person would take up writing novels“. While that quote might be a little extreme, history suggests that “excessive thinking has always been eating writers away from the inside out“. The dark side of being a writer is arguably the main theme of the book. The Game, only played after 10 pm, involves torture, drugs, obsession… The main purpose of the Game is gathering materials for the next book, and given that the members of the Society are some of the world’s most famous writers, the book makes it sound like a very useful plotting tool.

“The Rabbit Back Literature Society” is also rich with other mysteries Ella Milana tries to solve via The Game and other means. For example, the mystery of Laura White plagues Rabbit Back months after she’s disappeared, and Ella knows that it’s likely that the mystery is more horrifying than she could possibly imagine. The author uses vivid gothic imagery and bits and pieces of the Finnish mythology to make it even darker and more tense. The mystery of the missing tenth Rabbit Back Literature Society member, whose place Ella Milana took, haunts her, and apparently the town library – or is the mysterious plague infecting Dostoyevsky’s books merely the result of Ella’s imagination?

Imagination is also a very big thing in the book. Writers “simply lived on a different plane of existence than the other people” – imagination and excessive thinking “was eating writers away from the inside out“. The author explores it, making his characters even deeper and more complex. Writers are generally very complex people, and this book doesn’t shy away from diving into that rabbit hole, with unbelievable and devastating results that linger with you long after you close the last page.

I truly enjoyed “The Rabbit Back Literature Society”. I expected it to be a blend of “The Shadow of the Wind” and “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society”, but was more Donna Tartt and Fyodor Dostoyevsky than Carlos Ruiz Zafon and Mary Ann Shaffer. Elite groups of scholars, obsessions, mysterious disappearances – this was very “Secret History”! Despite several translation fails (they always happen) and a slow start, my rating of “The Rabbit Back Literature Society” is 8.5/10.

 

Favourite character

Martti Winter – a famous author who introduces Ella Milana to The Game. I felt that he was the author’s favourite, after Ella, and the way he was written was very inspiring (in a dark, most profound way). He had some very… disturbing yet effective ideas about writing, and insights about the profession. The way his insights are juxtaposed against the villain’s was fascinating and chilling – they both understood that “words can be razor sharp when it comes to tender matters of the flesh”, but they expressed that in similar, yet startingly different ways, as investigated by Ella

 

Favourite quotes

This was the hardest section to write – this entire book is quotable! Instead of my usual 2-3 quotes, I’ll therefore include five.

“You want to know how to write novels? I’ll tell you the secret: start on page one and keep going, in order, until you come to the last page. Then stop”.

“Reality was a game board for all of humanity to play on, formed from all human interaction. You could in principle make it up out of anything you wished, provided you all agreed upon it. But it was easiest if everyone used square pieces, because they would all fit perfectly together and form a seamless whole”.

“Happiness is contentment – the feeling that a person is content with the prevailing conditions. But people have an inherent need to achieve, to strive, to work at something – to always be developing. A happy creature stops developing, so happiness is a product of being content and development is a product of discontent. Happiness, in other words, is a temporary glitch in evolution”.

“Every book has its own quite unique strain of bacteria, which changes slightly whenever a new person reads it”.

“Are writers the torchbearers of humanity? It’s a romantic idea, but it’s complete rubbish. We writers are the crocodiles in the river”.

 

Recommendations

You would enjoy “The Rabbit Back Literature Society” if you liked:

“The Secret History” by Donna Tartt

“Crime and Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

“Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

“The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” by Mary Ann Shaffer

“Twin Peaks”

 

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3 thoughts on “Book Review: The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen

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