Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen – The Rabbit Back Literature Society

jaaskelainen-rabbitbackliteraturesocietyOnly very special people are chosen by children’s author Laura White to join ‘The Society’, an elite group of writers in the small town of Rabbit Back.

Now a tenth member has been selected: Ella, literature teacher and possessor of beautifully curving lips.

But soon Ella discovers that the Society is not what it seems. What is its mysterious ritual, ‘The Game’? What explains the strange disappearance that occurs at Laura’s winter party, in a whirlwind of snow? Why are the words inside books starting to rearrange themselves? Was there once another tenth member, before her?

Slowly, disturbing secrets that had been buried come to light…

In this chilling, darkly funny novel, the uncanny brushes up against the everyday in the most beguiling and unexpected of ways.

The Rabbit Back Literature Society is something special. Originally published in 2006 it was translated from the Finnish by Lola M. Rogers. It’s hard to judge how successful the translation is as I’m unfamiliar with both Finnish and Finnish literature and I don’t know whether the translation has kept the rhythm and the beats of its original language. Unfamiliarity with the original language also makes it hard to judge some of the linguistic quirks of the novel as it’s unclear whether things that bugged me were due to authorial choice or whether this is just a normal Finnish practice. One of the things that I really had to get used to was the fact that our protagonist, Ella is often referred to by not just her first and last name, but even by her full name, Ella Amanda Milana. This just felt strange to me and shook me out of the narrative a number of times at first. 

Jääskeläinen gives us a fascinating narrative, which frames a mystery which is unravelled in sometimes almost dreamlike flashbacks related by the members of the Rabbit Back Society. These members run the gamut of genres and are all successful authors. Some of them receive more page time than others and not all the members spill as part of The Game, which is the way we get to know some of them better. The three other members, other than Ella, the reader gets to know well are Martti Winter the successful literary writer, Ingrid Katz, the YA writer, and Arne C. Ahlqvist a.k.a. Aura Jokinen, the SF writer. Through them we get glimpses of the legendary and mysterious Laura White and the genesis of the Rabbit Back Literary Society. I found their reminiscences fascinating and often chilling, but they always handed both Ella and the readers clues to solving the mystery of Laura White and the reputed first tenth member of the Society.

The Game the Society members play with each other is an interesting device, which allows Jääskeläinen to showcase the somewhat sinister undertones to the Society and give his protagonist a way to get to the bottom of the book’s central mystery. It’s also very much not a game and seeing the lengths they will go to in obtaining what they want can be somewhat disturbing. The book is also rather meta at some points, concerned as it is with writing and writers. However, it’s also very much a literature scholar’s narrative as Ella often approaches events from this angle and connections are drawn between books, authors and themes, all to aid Ella in solving the puzzle. The structure of the novel is interesting; the interweaving of third-person past and present, interleaved with first-person narration and fragments from newspaper articles, creates depth and background to the text without Ella or the narrator having to tell the reader things outright.

Jääskeläinen’s book is more magical realist than straight-up fantasy, but I can see it appealing to those who like supernatural mysteries. I really enjoyed The Rabbit Back Literature Society. It was an interesting story, with some fascinating exploration of the human psyche and an intricate narrative structure. If you’re looking for something speculative outside of the norm, then The Rabbit Back Literature Society comes highly recommended.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.