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

The Rabbit Back Literature Society by  Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen. Fiction. Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books.

The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen. Fiction. Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books.

The Book Itself: I love the playful cover! I don’t know if it’s that playful of a book, but the graphic cover does a good job with hinting at some otherworldly aspects that might be buried in the story (is the snow falling out of that book? Why/how is that window hanging out in midair?

My Review: Only nine people have ever been chosen by renowned children’s author Laura White to join the Rabbit Back Literature Society, an elite group of writers in the small town of Rabbit Back. Now a tenth member has been selected: a young literature teacher named Ella.

Soon Ella discovers that the Society is not what it seems. What is its mysterious ritual known as “The Game”? What explains the strange disappearance that occurs at Laura White’s winter party? Why are the words inside books starting to rearrange themselves? Was there once another tenth member, before her? Slowly, as Ella explores the Society and its history, disturbing secrets that had been buried for years start to come to light. . . .

I might create a superlative for this book during my second annual “Book Awards” at the end of December this year. This one would definitely earn the “Strangest Book I’ve Read” award (well…so far this year).

The concept really drew me in. A not-so-secret society of popular authors in a small town have never opened their ranks to anyone else…until now. An uber-famous author of children’s books has never had so much as a speedbump on her stellar career…until now. A substitute school teacher hasn’t had such an exciting life…until now.

I love to write. I love to read. A book about a society of writers and their famous writer mentor seemed like a perfect fit. But it’s an odd little duck of a novel.

Confession time: I am not a very diverse reader. I read mainly fiction and science fiction/fantasy novels from mainly American authors.Rabbit Back was originally published in Finland. I will not pretend to know the cultural influences on Finnish literature. I don’t know if a lot of Finnish literature is like Rabbit Back. So I won’t blame my disconnect with the story on its origin (because that would be 1. horrible/culturally ignorant/short-sighted, and 2. dismissive of the story itself).

Okay, disclaimer over. What Rabbit Back does well is a solid unfurling of its central mystery. I don’t know how else to put it other than that. It reveals pieces of plot and secrets of the society’s members at a good clip, and a good pace. The synopsis of the book lets you know that not everything is as it seems with this society, and the plot reveals it very well. It seemed like every scene contributed to the big reveal. Every interaction unveiled a little bit more of what was really going on, and how Ella Milana’s (never just Ella) encounters with other members got to the thorn of the society’s rosy center.

I also highlighted passage after passage in my digital copy. So many insights into writers and how they think and operate and the intricacies of a writing life rang true for me. Or at least I wanted them to be true for me. Jääskeläinen also allows the different writers to have different philosophies, and those ring out throughout the text. I liked that the writers weren’t just cookie cutter copies of one another’s thoughts and practices.

But the story quite literally fell apart for me. I thought the climax was nearly unrecognizable, and the conclusion nonsensical. Ella Milana and one of the authors find themselves facing the society’s mystery head-on. And then….a whole bunch of strange, magical realism stuff happens…and then we jump to a quick summation of What Everyone is Doing Now.

I reread the scene, I was so perplexed. It seems like such a big ball of loose ends! What actually happened?! Did they solve the mystery? Are weird things going to stop happening in the town? What is up with Laura White, the supposed backbone to this society? Does anyone reap any consequences in this town, ever?

My head swirled with questions, and not the good philosophizing kind that happens when you read a challenging book. It wasn’t for me, but I did like the pacing and philosophies of some of the story’s characters.

My Grade: C-

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