Paperback, 352 pages
Published November 21st 2013 by PUSHKIN PRESS
A shout out to Lola M. Rogers who translated this book from Finnish and made it possible for it to be read in English.
I love reading translated fiction as it gives me a chance to peek into cultures totally different from mine. Reading translated books lets me catch glimpses of the different kinds of people and societies populating this world. There’s something deliciously foreign and yet familiar about translated books. At least I thought so. With that introduction, let’s move on to the review of this strange and wonderful book.
The Rabbit Back Literature Society focuses on Ella Milana who is a teacher at a high school when we first meet her. Her life hasn’t exactly spun out as she had hope it would. First, the doctor had told her that her ovaries were defective which meant she couldn’t ever have children, and then she and her fiance split due to the aforementioned ovaries. At least, Ella Milana consoles herself, she does have really beautiful lips that curve just so.
Rabbit Back is Ella’s hometown where her parents still live. When in class she comes across a book, Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, and finds out that the plot is distinctly changed, she takes herself off to the town’s library. There, she meets Ingrid Katz, a librarian, an author, and a member of the prestigious Rabbit Back Literature Society. This society has nine members who are all authors of varying fame. There one spot remaining empty in the society which is mentored by the world famous Laura White who has written Creatureville, a book series that is famous worldwide. Things happen, Ella’s short story gets printed in the local newspaper and comes to Laura White’s attention who, taken with Ella’s story, invites her to be the tenth and last member of the literature society. But before Ella can be formally introduced to Laura, there is an incident and Laura disappears leaving Ella with questions and the newfound mystery of the previous tenth member.
This book is remarkably easy to read. Pages stretch into chapters until you have read a hundred pages in one sitting. I was charmed by the cadence of the language, the flow of it. Being both an aspiring writing and an academic, I found this novel to have a wealth of bits and things to ponder and analyze. First, I must applaud a male author for writing a woman who feels real and not a collection and embodiment of someone else’s fantasies. This is rarer than it seems so bear with me.
Ella’s grief about not being able to have children is not explicit but as a reader, I was able to appreciate the small moments scattered here and there when she’d console herself for the superior curve of her lips or the colour of nipples that some lover had long admired. Interesting,too, how the book has different discussions about motherhood interspersed in a seemingly careless way throughout the narrative.
However, the book, at its heart, delves into the art of writing and maintains how savage the entire venture is. Writing is laying yourself bare (sometimes literally) to the world and your readers. It is an excavation into the deepest parts of your soul just so you can get new material. Writing is borrowing, begging and sometimes boldly stealing new material from people you know and from others you don’t. It is a constant struggle with debilitating insecurity. It is giving too much of yourself to a character and then realizing you have an unstable identity.
Ella’s interactions with the other nine members of the Rabbit Back Literature Society is illuminating. Her efforts to gather information about the previous tenth member creates a mystery that needs to be solved but Ella warns the reader that being a detective is not appealing to her at all.
Jaaskelainen weaves elements of fantasy while keeping a strong hold on reality and asks questions about human nature and the art of storytelling. The book makes surprising twists and turns and the ending is that last bit of hard candy that lingers for a while in your mouth getting sweeter every time you swallow until it is finally gone.
I enjoyed The Rabbit Back Literature Society immensely and recommend it to everyone who enjoys good literature.