Book Review: How to Kill Your Family by Bella Mackie

I have killed several people (some brutally, others calmly) and yet I currently languish in jail for a murder I did not commit.

Spoiler-Free Thoughts

If you like dark comedy, I think you’ll really enjoy this book. Mackie writes a really clever twist on the usual crime novel by making her narrator, Grace, fully transparent and unapologetic about her crimes. The premise is familiar; a confessional written from jail, a wrongful conviction, and the idea of vengeful killing in connection to a dysfunctional family. Yet, somehow, this novel feels really fresh and different from anything I’ve read before.

I think this book has the perfect balance between satirical comedy and deep social analysis. This definitely isn’t an easy task, and Mackie toes the line to create the perfect anti-hero. This book really had me questioning who I was rooting for, and to what extent my investment in the characters became morally problematic. We all love a complicated crime case that defies the evil, soulless villain stereotype and draws in a whole manner of issues that complicate our notions of human compassion and justice- this is exactly what How to Kill Your Family presents.

The plot is very well-written, and maintains momentum despite the series of murders on paper creating a fairly monotonous plot. I don’t think this book is overly gory or violent, but it does offer detailed descriptions of the process of murdering someone, so if you are particularly sensitive towards death I perhaps would avoid it. I listened to this as an audiobook and it never got too intense for me, but it’s definitely something to take into consideration.

Mackie doesn’t shy away from the darker sides and actions of Grace as a character, and yet the anti-hero still gained my sympathy due to her dysfunctional family. I think my opinion varied throughout the books and with each murder as to whether I could feel some measure of understanding for her motivation, but this never impacted my enjoyment of the book. All of the characters are unlikable to a certain extent, including Grace, who is arrogant and has a superiority complex that at times made me physically eye roll in response. However, I think this just made her and her crimes seem more realistic- you couldn’t have a likable narrator killing off her family.

Overall, without spoiling anything, this is a really great crime novel that is perfect for anyone who loves dark humour and is looking for their next read.

In-Depth Review (Spoilers!)

I liked the structure of the narrative, and how it followed Grace’s enactment of her plan with the present day dispersed throughout. At first the time jumps confused me, but I think that was just because I was listening to it as an audiobook and therefore not as tuned in as I would be reading it. I though the murder of her grandparents was a really interesting starting point, because it was the death that felt the most movie-like and outlandish (how many people have plotted to drive their grandparents off the side of the road in a foreign country?). Here, we get to see Grace in action before we have much investment in her character and story, and it established from the outset the problematic nature of any positive feelings towards her that develop later. I did worry at times that it would get a bit repetitive watching her murder each person one by one, but the extreme circumstances of their deaths stopped that from happening. Killing someone by remotely locking a sauna door and strangling them in a sex club can never be seen as boring.

I though Mackie struck the right balance between telling Grace’s tragic backstory and not overdoing it, and it felt like the sympathy I ended up feeling for her was organic rather than orchestrated by the author. I really began to doubt my judgement of people and morality by the end of this novel, and was very uncomfortable by the fact I was rooting for her crimes to go undiscovered and for her to be successful. I think that stands testament to the quality of Mackie’s storytelling and writing. It managed to be both funny and tackle deep social and moral issues, which I think is a really difficult task.

The only problem I had plot-wise was with the ending. It all just felt a bit too convenient to have an outside player swoop in last minute and steal her success away. I liked that Harry was peppered into the narrative the whole time, but it did feel like a way that Mackie could resolve the uncomfortable feeling of rooting for a murderer by delivering some wrong-doing to her at the end. It wasn’t that I didn’t appreciate the twist, but it just felt a little too abrupt for my liking. Perhaps this was again down to me listening to the audiobook (having a male voice suddenly start talking was a little confusing!). I wish we could’ve seen Grace’s reaction to finding out that her plan had been intercepted, which I think would’ve tied the story together a little better.

In terms of characters, Mackie did a good job at not turning the family into caricatures of dysfunction. The Artemis family were awful and arrogant, but they felt like real people of the upper class that are too deep in their own privilege to care about social issues. The same goes for Grace: of course she was unlikable and judgmental, but without it her ability to murder would have seemed completely unmatched to her personality. She is completely savage about anyone or anything she doesn’t agree with, and yet she remains somewhat relatable. I think the strength in her character came from her killing the family members directly implicated in her difficult childhood. When she starts killing peripheral members of the family, it becomes harder to sympathise with her.

Overall Thoughts and Rating

This was a really enjoyable, unique book that is perfect for anyone who likes dark comedy and books that address deeper social issues. The plot and the characters invite the reader to invest and challenge their own morality, which makes for an effective and intense reading experience.

I’m giving How to Kill Your Family by Bella Mackie 4 stars.



Book Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstein

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night

The Night CIrcus

Spoiler-Free Thoughts

Let me start off by saying, I do not read a lot of fantasy. At some point during my transition from YA into adult literature the genre got left behind, and now it’s very rare I get to pick up a fantasy book.

For me, though, this book just has such an alluring premise. I’ve included the quote above because I think it perfectly captures the mystery that surrounds this book. The idea of a circus that magically appears and opens only at night, with a name as beautiful as ‘the Circus of Dreams’, is almost irresistible. If you’re reading this as an adult, Morgenstein really captures the feeling of being a child, and staring in wonder at all the things that are beyond understanding and therefore must be magic.

It’s set in an ahistorical Victorian England, and I think Morgenstein really uses the mystery that we perceive the past to be cloaked in to enhance her story. As you travel across countries with the circus and its characters, she creates a world that is slightly unfamiliar to you, never allowing you to fully decide whether the difference is because it is a past version, or because of magic. The same can be said for time in the novel, as Morgenstein manipulates the passing of time so that everything feels a little bit distorted.

Her descriptions of the circus itself and the wonders within the tents is where the true literary magic of this book lies, and it really does alight a childish curiosity in you. I thought the characters were well-written and complex, and their relationships to one another felt very genuine and real. If you get into this book because of the concept, you will very quickly become invested in the characters and their various fates.

If you don’t want to see any spoilers, scroll to the bottom of the review to see my concluding thoughts and my rating!

In-Depth Thoughts (Spoilers!)

We start the book with a very enchanting description of the circus, and I actually did like the POV sections that intermittently interrupted the narrative. Sometimes it felt a bit disjointed, but I think in a fantasy book that’s so set on fully emerging you in the world you can get away with it.

At first I found the initial stages before the circus was established a bit confusing. I kept getting confused about whether Celia was with Prospero or Mr A.H. and vice verse with Marco, but once I had my characters straight I really enjoyed it. I liked having an insight into the two different teaching styles because it really cemented the point of the competition beyond it just making for an interesting plot.

Now, I have seen a lot of people say that they were disappointed because it wasn’t a typical duel per se, but I didn’t have that expectation and therefore wasn’t disappointed. I thought the drawn out, passive duel was actually really unique and fit the novel far better. It was very cool to see how their tents reflected their personality and also their relationship with each other, both as competitors and later romantically.

I don’t normally like romance inserted into books that don’t really need it, but here I think it really worked. It was a bit of a basic and predicable star-crossed lover situation, but I fell for it.

The peripheral characters were also really interesting, and I liked the Morgenstein didn’t use the ‘circus freak’ stereotype as a cheap way to make them interesting. They each had their own complexities and depth, and were integral to the narrative even in a minor way. I really enjoyed the Poppet, Widget and Bailey subplot which turned out to be the solution to the competition, and these characters also helped to really activate my childish curiosity by seeing the circus through their eyes.

The ending was quite intense, and I was really rooting for them to find a solution that kept everyone safe. I thought Bailey was a really good choice to continue on the circus, and it emphasised the idea that it is a welcoming and inclusive space for those who feel like they belong. I liked that Prospero’s death wasn’t just a convenient way to make both sponsors abandon their competitors, but rather gave the idea so that Celia and Marco could stay together and escape the bounds of the competition.

Concluding Thoughts and Rating

Overall, this is a great fantasy novel that will make you feel like a child again. It’s a really well-written magical atmosphere, and the characters are easy to invest in. If you love magic and the circus is a setting that intrigues you, you’ll like this book.

I’m rating The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstein four stars.


The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri

I knew this book was going to be beautiful and moving, and to be honest that’s the very thing that put me off for so long. I wanted my mind to be in the perfect place to appreciate it.

I’m so glad I waited.

Nuri is a beekeeper; his wife, Afra, an artist. They live a simple life, rich in family and friends, in the beautiful Syrian city of Aleppo – until the unthinkable happens. When all they care for is destroyed by war, they are forced to escape. But what Afra has seen is so terrible she has gone blind, and so they must embark on a perilous journey through Turkey and Greece towards an uncertain future in Britain.

As Nuri and Afra travel through a broken world, they must confront not only the pain of their own unspeakable loss, but dangers that would overwhelm the bravest of souls. Above all – and perhaps this is the hardest thing they face – they must journey to find each other again.

Spoiler-Free Review

I listened to this as an audiobook, and I firstly just have to say if you like listening to books in that format you need to do so for this book. It really enhanced my reading experience, and it was very compatible with the story itself. The narrative is told very much like someone is telling the story of Nuri and Afra’s journey (although it is 3rd person), so the audiobook just enhanced this.

The plot is very engaging, and it really maintains the suspense right until the end of the book. There is some time jumping which occasionally confused me, but that could be because I listened to it rather than read it. Even though it isn’t fast-paced, I was completely hooked from the offset, and just wanted to know how the story was going to unfold. There are definitely twists and turns, which makes the story feel very unique and yet realistic.

The characters are really complex, and Lefteri avoids writing any two dimensional characters. If you want a book where you really connect to the characters, this is the one for you. I think this is what makes the book so great, because you get the sense that these could be real people who are going through very real problems. Lefteri never shies away from a difficult topic, but rather handles them beautifully.

The best thing about this book though is just the beautiful descriptions that Lefteri gives. You can picture the scenes perfectly because they are crafted so eloquently throughout. Every setting is presented as having good and bad aspects, which really helps to create a sophisticated portrayal of the places she writes about.

If you don’t want to see any spoilers for this book, scroll to the bottom of the review to see my concluding thoughts and rating!

In-Depth Review (Spoilers!)

I love the way that the plot always keep you in suspense for what’s coming next by splitting their journey into stages. With each new place or country they reach, there’s another difficulty that brings doubt to their successful arrival in England. Not only does this make the book feel like a very realistic portrayal of the struggle to seek asylum across the world, it also makes for a very engaging read. Never did I feel bored or less invested, because I was constantly worried about what was going to happen next.

I also found it interesting to see the different types of places they had to stay in. Their house in Aleppo, the refugee camp, the safe house in the school and the second camp never felt repetitive, and it allowed Lefteri to show the flaws with each setting. If anyone was ever unsympathetic to refugees or needed reminding of the poor condition in camps, then this would be the book to give them.

I really loved how Nuri and Afra’s relationship was written, because it felt so real. They were never painted as ‘perfect despite hardship’ like a lot of books do; their relationship was flawed and complicated. I really felt for both of them, and the emotional investment that Lefteri invites with her characters is on another level. I really felt for both of them, especially during the flashbacks when you learn what happened to their son. Learning about Nuri’s PTSD and Afra’s trauma-induced blindness was heartbreaking, especially because you then have to watch all of the hurdles they face in their journey make it worse.

I really didn’t expect Mohammed to be a trauma-driven replacement for their son, so that was a really nice yet devastating twist in the story. I had to rewind my audiobook and re-listen to make sure I’d heard right, but it was the perfect way to bring the story to a close. After the emotional experience of reading the book, having a more uplifting ending was definitely a good choice, and infuses the book with an irresistible bittersweet feeling.

The tertiary characters were just as well-written as the main ones. The Moroccan man, the man with the ‘wings’ and Mustafa all had their individual characteristics and development despite not being central to the story, which really enhanced the book’s realism. Everyone in this story has some experienced some kind of tragedy, even the ‘villains’, adds to the beautiful complexity that Lefteri creates.

My only qualm with the book was at time it was hard to keep track of who all the characters were and where they fit in with the chronological journey from Aleppo to England. This might have been purely down to me listening to it rather than reading it, but at times I felt a bit lost in the story.

Concluding Thoughts

Overall, I would encourage everyone to read this book. It is very serious and emotional, but what Lefteri writes about is so important, especially in today’s world. Her writing is beautiful, and I can almost guarantee you will get absorbed by her rich plot and characters.

I’m giving The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri 4.5 stars.


The Dinner Guest by B.P. Walter

Four people walked into the dining room that night. One would never leave.

Matthew: the perfect husband

Titus: the perfect son

Charlie: the perfect illusion

Rachel: the perfect stranger

Charlie didn’t want her at the book club. Matthew wouldn’t listen.

And that’s how Charlie finds himself slumped beside his husband’s body, their son sitting silently at the dinner table, while Rachel calls 999, the bloody knife still gripped in her hand.

Spoiler-Free Review

Crime and murder mystery fiction is something I’ve read a decent amount of in the past year, so I feel in a good position to review a book like this.

I think Walter does a great job of misdirecting the reader’s attention and focus throughout this book, and I think there are enough elements that you’re unlikely to correctly guess the whole plot. The characters are all fairly unlikeable, and I think this really aids the misdirection; there’s no character you completely trust, and therefore nothing is out of the question

I really enjoyed the non-linear structure of the narrative, because it kept the mystery alive and fed details through in a way that at times became more confusing the more that was revealed. I’m a big fan of crime novels that manage to keep readers at the same level of understanding as the characters in the novel and yet feed them pieces of information that the characters are missing. This book definitely achieves that.

The only downside to this book comes from its genre: at times it does rely quite heavily on classic crime genre tropes. There’s only so much difference a murder mystery can have, and the idea of the looming dinner party does give it a unique twist, but there was nothing I haven’t read before in this book. Of course, there’s nothing necessarily bad about a book not being completely unique, but some of the events seemed far too theatrical for the realism of the plot because it follows crime tropes more fitting in less reality-based novels.

Overall, if you like crime and murder mystery fiction, definitely give this book a read. You won’t miss out on anything ground-breaking if you don’t read it, but you won’t regret it. I read this in one sitting, so it’s definitely captivating and a good mystery to explore.

In-Depth Review

I think the plot is very clever because as much as it uses tropes from the crime genre, it also alludes to and dismisses others. From the start, it becomes fairly clear that Rachel should be the main suspect. She stalks them to London, is found snooping around their house, and is the one holding the bloody knife. Walter alludes to the classic stalker murder story line, and then recovery’s your suspicions onto Titus. We’re shown his grandparents and Charlie convincing him to get his story straight and lie after the murder, he seems to be captivated by Rachel and is frustrated with his controlling father. Again, a son kills father narrative is alluded to, when finally Charlie is highlighted as the suspect. But the blame extends past his physical murder.

I thought it was clever to extend the mystery beyond the murder itself, and it becomes clear that the events themselves echo Charlie and Matthew’s relationship: perfect from the outside, messy and broken on the inside. Their model gay relationship is really a sexless and fading one, their perfect family is shrouded in the guilt of Matthew’s murder of Titus’ biological father, and their new book club member is determined to expose them for all their misdeeds.

I went down many wrong paths whilst reading this in an attempt to guess the plot. At first I thought Matthew was responsible for Rachel’s mother’s death (wrong family member but close!), then I thought she was in love with Titus (very glad I was wrong about that) and many more theories that were disproved. I guess that stands testament to Walter’s ability to write an effective mystery. I think that’s what makes this book really work, because you end up vaguely guessing the right events but getting the characters involved wrong, or vice versa. The events themselves (an affair, revenge for a family member, a stalker) aren’t exactly unique, so I think without this misdirection and Walter’s carefully planned release of information this book would be underwhelming.

In terms of the characters, Walter creates people that are unlikable, but still realistic. No-one is reduced to a stereotypical villain, and they all retain a crucial aspect of humanity that keeps the book firmly placed in reality. This is part of the reason why I found the ending a little problematic, because the theatricality of Rachel recording her conversation with Charlie and using it to blackmail him and Matthew’s mistress started to creep into the stereotype. I understand it sets up the potential for a sequel, and it did create a final sense of dread that undercut the resolution of the crime, but it just felt a bit odd considering the rest of the story felt like it could happen to anyone.

Concluding Thoughts

I think this is a really good example of a murder mystery that is firmly grounded in reality, and yet has all the twists and turns that make it theatrical in its own way. If you’re a huge fan of the crime genre it’s definitely worth a read, but I don’t think it would be anything new to you. For me, it’s a great murder mystery that demonstrates how stereotypes and tropes can be used without it feeling repetitive or already done.

I’m giving The Dinner Guest by B.P. Walter four stars.


Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

When he hears her favourite Beatles song, Toru Watanabe recalls his first love Naoko, the girlfriend of his best friend Kizuki. Immediately he is transported back almost twenty years to his student days in 1960s Tokyo, adrift in a world of uneasy friendships, casual sex, passion, loss and desire – to a time when an impetuous young woman called Midori marches into his life and he has to choose between the future and the past.

Norwegian Wood Blurb

Spoiler-Free Thoughts

I really liked this book, and I thought it was a really interesting take on the coming-of-age story we’re all familiar with. I do have to say, I think it’s important to read this book with context in mind: it is translated from Japanese, and it’s set in 1960s Tokyo. When I first started reading this, I didn’t keep this in mind, and it did affect how I felt about the book. Once I took a moment to remind myself of the context, the book became ten times better.

The book does focus on some quite dark themes despite being a coming-of-age story, particularly mental health and loss. I would definitely place a content warning on this novel, so if you’re particularly sensitive to either of these themes then it might be better to give this a miss. It is these darker themes, however, that I think elevates it, and Murakami uses these low moments to make readers really invest in his characters. Although none of the characters are perfect, they are made all the more compelling because of their flaws and mistakes.

Not a lot happens in this book in terms of plot, but the characters’ experience a lot of life-changing experiences, both good and bad.It’s definitely not a boring read, and despite the different cultural context I think it depicts the feelings of a young person or student very well. I’m glad I read this book at this point in my life, because Murakami captures perfectly the strange in-between feeling that I think most young people face when they start to venture out into the world as an established adult. Negotiating your own identity, relationships with others, ambitions and direction in life and coming to terms with the harsh reality of the adult world; all the things that Toru faces were very relevant to my life currently.

So if you’re interested in reading a coming-of-age story that addresses the struggles of emerging as an adult out of childhood, then Norwegian Wood is for you.

If you want to avoid spoilers, scroll to the bottom of this review to see my rating and final thoughts!

Thoughts About the Plot and Characters (Spoilers!)

Onto the spoiler section of this review.

I read this book in one sitting, and I think this really enhanced my experience. Murakami created a world that was very absorbing and insular because that’s how it felt to Toru. He perfectly captured the coming-of-age feeling of being completely consumed by those around you and the journey to establish yourself as an adult outside of the childhood bubble.

I guess when you break it down, Norwegian Wood contains a love triangle, at least without considering the more peripheral characters. To me, this was the perfect example of how to write a love triangle without resorting to overdone fictional tropes. It felt very natural and realistic to watch Toru struggle between his childhood trauma bond to Naoko and this newfound adult desire for Midori. It wasn’t something thrown into the novel to add drama, but rather a manifestation of the struggle between past and future that is so familiar to us all, whether in a romantic sense or otherwise. We watch Toru try to maintain his loyalty to Naoko and finally be with his childhood crush, but as he emerges more as an adult he realises his priorities and wants have changed, and that Midori may match him better now.

I think that Murakami writes about trauma and mental illness very eloquently, especially considering these topics through the eyes of a young adult. Toru’s confusion over Naoko’s ilness and his experience of losing his best friend to mental illness feels honest and true to human expereince, and the stereotypical portrayals of these problems are not drawn upon. True, Naoko does potentially fall dangerously close to the ‘manic pixie dream girl’ trope with her mysterious sweetness and alluring distance from Toru, but I think Murakami is careful to never undermine her health problems or to fully label her as such. This side of her portrayal, I think, is more down to Toru’s childhood crush which has elevated her to a position that she just can’t achieve, whether struggling mentally or not.

I really liked Midori as a character, and I was hoping that Toru would realise he couldn’t be with Naoko and make it work with her instead. I liked the fact that she was a dimensional character with her own ambitions, problems and personality outside of being just a love rival. It’s also refreshing that she doesn’t let him walk all over her, but she is understanding about his trauma bond with Naoko and doesn’t immediately cut him off for struggling between the two relationships. The other main women in the story, Reiko, is another example of a well-written mental health sufferer. She becomes the font of wisdom for Toru, and uses her life experience to help him negotiate his current affairs. But she also has a tragic background, and for me she underpins the tragedy of the whole book. Reiko is there to remind us that we can struggle at any point during life, but that struggling doesn’t mean you can’t have a positive impact on others.

And of course, Murakami’s book is full of sex. Meaningful sex, casual sex, damaging sex and healing sex. It’s not written like erotic fiction, but it is infused with the eroticism that memories carry. That kind of lost-but-still-there desire that seems to be enhanced with nostalgia. I think that this portrayal is really important because it doesn’t demonise using sex as a way to figure yourself and relationships out, but instead focuses its disapproval on sex that has a lasting, negative impact. Most of the time, this kind of sex is seen as an unfortunate consequence of immaturity and inexperience (excluding the traumatic and outright wrong sexual encounters in the book of course).

The only negative I have about this book is that at times the phrasing felt slightly clunky and didn’t quite match the rest of the writing style. As this is a translated text, I think this probably has to do more with the struggle to match meaning and style in a different language that anything to do with the quality of Murakami’s writing.

Concluding Thoughts and Rating

Overall, this was a really enjoyable and relatable read, and I would recommend this to everyone who likes coming-of-age style stories, especially if they themselves are a student or young adult. The writing is exquisite and the characters are multi-dimensional and feel believable.

I’m giving Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood four stars.

Four Stars


The Constant Rabbit by Jasper Fforde

‘There are 1.2 million human-sized rabbits living in the UK. They can walk, talk and drive cars, the result of an Inexplicable Anthropomorphising Event fifty-five years ago. 
And a family of rabbits is about to move into Much Hemlock, a cosy little village where life revolves around summer fetes, jam-making, gossipy corner stores, and the oh-so-important Best Kept Village awards. No sooner have the rabbits arrived than the villagers decide they must depart. But Mrs Constance Rabbit is made of sterner stuff, and her family are behind her. Unusually, so are their neighbours, long-time residents Peter Knox and his daughter Pippa, who soon find that you can be a friend to rabbits or humans, but not both. With a blossoming romance, acute cultural differences, enforced rehoming to a MegaWarren in Wales, and the full power of the ruling United Kingdom Anti Rabbit Party against them, Peter and Pippa are about to question everything they’d ever thought about their friends, their nation, and their species.’

The Constant Rabbit Blurb

Spoiler-Free Thoughts

I bought this book mainly because of the wacky cover, and even weirder subject matter. Dystopian isn’t my favourite genre, but I’m up for trying something new if it captures my interest.

For me, this book was definitely a very unique and clever way to make a wider point about traditional communities and resistance to the ‘other’ in the UK, but it was fairly transparent. Fforde draws very intelligent parallels between his world and our own, but in my opinion it was kept very close under the surface, alluding to this ‘hidden’ meaning in a very wink-wink-nudge-nudge kind of way. I think describing it as political satire is very fitting.

I really enjoyed the plot, because it didn’t feel too far from what could happen in our reality. Once you accept that there are anthropomorphised rabbits, all the other events feel way less outlandish, and I think that’s why I was able to enjoy this book so much despite my hesitance with the dystopian genre. A lot happens, and there’s a lot of action which helps prevent the pace of the story getting lost in Fforde’s attempts to explain his weird and wonderful rabbit world.

I definitely imagined the characters stylised like Bugs Bunny, and that definitely aided my enjoyment of the book and bought more into the satirical comedy side of this novel. Both the human and rabbit characters are well-written, and although Fforde does lean into certain stereotypes, I think this fits very well with the general tone of the book.

It’s hard to make much comment without ruining the book, and I think preserving the surprise of how events unfold really is essential in ensuring this doesn’t become a boring read, so I think I’ll leave it there. If you scroll to the bottom of my review, you’ll be able to read my concluding thoughts and rating without seeing any spoilers!

In-Depth Review (Spoilers!)

I really liked how the book opened by immediately placing us into the community and showing by example the virtues it holds dear: law and order, unity and insularity. Fforde’s use of past prime ministers as nicknames for the different library staff instantly tells you that this book is making a political message, and I appreciate that pre-warning before the proper satire began. Starting each chapter with a quote or definition and having footnotes throughout also added to this tone, and I think that whilst I wouldn’t necessarily like these choices in other cases, they worked really well with this novel.

The plot in general is very typical of the dystopian genre: a group of repressed people (or in this case, rabbits) rise up against the tyrannical power institution that is trying to control their existence. Of course, when you throw in a load of anthropomorphised rabbits, it spices it up a bit. Fforde’s plot clearly mirrors the idea of immigration or refugee camps, as the rabbits are encouraged to relocate into a MegaWarren, and are already restricted to colonies unless they have a special license. What I really enjoyed was having insight not only into the institution creating and enforcing these policies through Peter’s job as a Rabbit Spotter, but also the people encouraging them through Much Hemlock. I think this is where Fforde departs from conventional sci-fi, dystopian plots, because there is much more emphasis on how the actions of individuals spur on each side, rather than the actions of a big group as a whole.

I really enjoyed how the plot followed the development of Peter’s role as a double agent- through both his dinners with the rabbits and his operations at work, we gain more information along with him and more of this crazy world is revealed to us. I really liked that fact that Harvey was in the book from very early on, and everything seemed to tie together and have relevance. Most of the details mentioned gained greater significance or played a role later on, and I think that that shows just how good Fforde’s writing is. Most of the named characters went on to play a role that extended beyond how they were originally introduced, which really strengthened the world and made it feel a lot more real.

In terms of characters, I’ll deal with the humans first. Peter Knox, our not-so brave hero and narrator, is a likeable and relatable character. We all want to think that we would be the one leading the rebellion into battle against the evil power, but let’s be honest, most of us would settle for being a sympathetic part of a larger, malicious machine. I do appreciate the allusion to Peter Rabbit in his name (and Fforde does reference Beatrix Potter so I would suggest this is purposeful), and I thought his perspective on the events were realistic. His daughter, Pippa, is a classic strong teenage girl, who wants to do what she wants, love who she wants, and represent a moral cause. I was a bit confused why at first she was written as being reluctant to hang out with Bobby because she’s a rabbit, but I guess I would be reluctant if my dad signed me up to go shopping with a human-sized rabbit I’d never met. The Mallets are a classic chauvinistic duo, determined to banish the rabbits from Much Hemlock and reestablish the mundane traditional way of life. They are the archetype of men who support their conservative values with underhand violence and hatred, but I think considering the other villains are foxes and no-eared rabbits we can allow this.

The rabbits are driven by their movement to stop being a suppressed minority and be able to live normally in society. Constance Rabbit, Peter’s long-lost university friend/crush, is a ballsy, independent imagination of Jessica Rabbit if her surname was a more literal representation of her species. Her relationship with Doc, who is a hilarious take on the husband who hides his possessiveness over his wife under unconvincing jokes, is tumultuous and feels like a reflection of human relationships on steroids. Their children, Bobby (who is a member of the Underground rebellion group) and Kent who has a ‘burrowing’ problem), are stereotypical tear-away teens who get themselves into trouble and leave their parents to figure out where they are and what they’re up to. The rabbit family are essentially straight out of a British soap opera. Mr Ffoxe, Peter’s boss, is a great villain, largely because he holds both physical and institutional power. If it’s not enough that he threatens to eat people’s eyeballs if he believes their loyalty is fading, he probably has the power to make you and your family disappear, and never get a job again. I think this manifestation of human ‘big bosses’ is brilliant, and it definitely made me laugh.

One thing I never got comfortable with was the inter-species relationships. I got the idea that Constance was Peter’s crush at university, but the idea that they would actually be together was just a step too far into the weird for me. Harvey and Pippa’s relationship too was very fast and I really thought he was going to end up double-crossing her, because it seemed to come out of nowhere and serve little significance other than giving Fforde an excuse to raise the intensity and place Pippa in the colonies with the rabbit rebellion movement.

The ending also felt a little bit too neat of a solution to the problem. How do you solve a bunch of human-sized rabbits rebelling against their confinement by humans? Make them disappear just as magically as they apparently appeared. It just felt a bit flat to me to put so much effort into world building and establishing this weird reality just to give an ending like that. I also was baffled that Peter let Pippa turn into a rabbit and go off with Harvey. Firstly, how does that even work, and secondly, would you really let your only family member turn into a rabbit and leave you with little to no resistance to the idea? I wasn’t so convinced.

Concluding Thoughts and Rating

I think because I don’t usually like these kinds of books, my opinion might be slightly kinder than I normally would be. This book is very clever and funny, and if you enjoy political satire and weirdness this is definitely for you. Give it a try if you want something a bit different from the conventional.

I’m giving The Constant Rabbit by Jasper Fforde four stars.

Four Stars