Last year, when I was reading Emmi Itäranta’s Memory of Water, I came across the phrase “Finnish weird,” which is an umbrella term that encompasses the speculative fiction that’s been coming out of Finland for the last couple of decades.
The Rabbit Back Literature Society* is definitely Finnish, and definitely weird, so I’m going to go ahead and say it’s Finnish weird. Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen’s novel is set in contemporary Finland, in the small town of Rabbit Back. The town is known primarily as the home of the famous children’s writer Laura White and her Rabbit Back Literature society, a club of nine children whom she trained as writers and who went on to become some of Finland’s most important and popular authors.
Ella Milana is a young substitute literature teacher in Rabbit Back, living with her mother and dementia-ridden father. After a short story of hers is published in the town paper, she receives an invitation to join the Rabbit Back Literature Society as its tenth member—an honor, as far as anyone knows, that hasn’t been conferred in the society’s long history.
On the day she is to meet Laura White, however, something very strange indeed happens, and Ella falls down the rabbit hole, so to speak.
One of the jacket blurbs compares this book to Twin Peaks and The Secret History, and those are pretty good comparisons, up to a point. Rabbit Back is populated by strange small-town souls and subject to peculiar quirks, like gnome infestations and an epidemic of stray dogs. The members of Ella’s new society play a very strange game that one player describes as “psychic strip poker around a glass table” (181). And there’s a plague infecting books, leading Sonja to murder Raskolnikov, for example, in the copy of Crime and Punishment that Ella confiscates from a student.
I loved the weirdness of this book, the little and large strangenesses, but the novel as a whole does have some limitations (some might be due to the fact that it’s a work in translation). Some phrases repeat without a strong reason to be repetitive, and I caught one editing error (“phased” instead of “fazed”). The ending isn’t neat, which didn’t bother me, but might annoy some readers who like all the answers, or at least a good sense that the answers they come up with are quite possibly correct. And the sexuality in the book tends toward the creepy (with a notable exception at the very end of the book, which I thought was really interesting and good) and uncomfortable, which didn’t quite mesh with the book’s atmospheric weirdness.
Still, if library book theft gets your heart pounding or if you often wonder where your favorite authors get their ideas, you might just love The Rabbit Back Literature Society.
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes, which did not affect the content of my review.