I rarely read books translated from other languages. After finishing Finnish novel, The Rabbit Back Literature Society, I am reminded of why I stick to books by English speaking authors. Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen has created a plot which is odd to the point of being bizarre. In a normal world, Ella Milana, a substitute Finnish teacher (comparable to our English teachers), would be called psychotic. It is understandable that her world is falling apart after her fathers illness (Alzheimer’s) and death. She’s lost touch with her childhood memories, and perhaps all reality. Even the familiar books she reads have twisted plots different from the author’s original intent. Is she going crazy? She resigns from her teaching job.
Then an article Ella writes is published in the local paper and she is selected to be the tenth member of The Rabbit Back Literature Society. This rare honor is celebrated at a huge bash at the sponsor’s home. Yet when famous author, Laura White, the leader of this eclectic group, is set to appear, she literally disappears in a swirl of snow. Poor Ella is left without a mentor and the promised funding to start her career as a writer.
Ella has an ace up her sleeve. She can receive a stipend from the nearby university while she does research about this well known, but secretive society. And the pickings are easy to achieve, she simply needs to play “The Game” with the other nine members. Yet, does Ella really want to discover all the secrets the other writers have hidden from society? Perhaps there is a reason for their aloofness from the general public. And what about the mysterious former tenth member? As Ella plucks thoughts from her fellow authors’ brains, a story develops which is different from the truth represented to the outside world. There is a pervasive darkness which has invaded the society, keeping the members distant from one another. Can Ella put things to rights without compromising the rules?
This book is full of symbolism through the use of fantasy elements, evoking Scandinavian folklore traditions. The plot doesn’t start to get interesting until somewhere towards the second half of the novel. As the author discloses more details about the beginnings of the literary society, the story finally begins to make some sense, and thus becomes more interesting as it builds momentum towards the surprising conclusion.
What kind of book is this? There are elements of mystery, fantasy, horror, and realism. A Chucky meets Columbo sort of genre where reality is a false reflection of the truth. If you like the surreal, then you might appreciate Jaaskelainen’s style. I give The Rabbit Back Literature Society three stars, mainly for the concluding chapters. I actually enjoyed the way the author wraps up events, so my ending impression was on a positive note, despite the stilted style and confusion of the majority of the book.
I would like to thank Thomas Dunne Books and Netgalley for letting me preview a copy of this novel in exchange for an unbiased review.