Rabbit Back is a small town in Finland; and a very strange one. Everyone’s garden is full of mythological statuary: elves, forest nymphs, gnomes, goblins. The town’s most famous resident is the reclusive children’s writer, Laura White, who runs a literature society and trains a limited number of gifted locals to become writers – there are nine, and she is still looking for the tenth and final member.
Teacher Ella Milana (who has beautifully curved lips and defective ovaries) gets a surprise one day – she discovers that a bizarre book infection is affecting the novels in the town’s library: in Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov gets shot by Sonya instead of being sent to prison, while in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Aslan saves everyone a lot of trouble by biting off the White Witch’s head.
While investigating, she happens to write a story with the beautiful title of “The Skeleton Sat in the Cave, Silently Smoking Cigarettes”, which is published and, as a result, Laura White invites her to join the Rabbit Back Literature Society.
She soon learns the Society has some peculiar practices: members play a game in which they ambush each other and use physical violence – as well as a disinhibiting chemical drug called “yellow” – to force each other to answer personal questions. Then, Laura White disappears and it transpires that there was a tenth member before Ella – but what became of him?
It’s hard to convey the peculiar atmosphere of this novel – absurd but believable, sinister but enjoyable, beautiful but disquieting. This is Jaaskerlainen’s first novel to be published in English (and hats off to Lola Rogers for an elegant, literary and readable translation). Let’s hope there are more to come.
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