The town of Rabbit Back is filled with mysterious occurrences on a scale so subtle it’s hard to tell if they’re real. Finnish author Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen thrusts the reader into this enigmatic landscape and offers little guidance to the myth-soaked culture and deep woods where travelers often lose their way. Dogs leave their homes to roam the snowy landscape in packs. A man with Alzheimer’s talks about gnomes in his garden, while his wife feels compelled to create one out of clay. A virus contaminates books at the local Rabbit Back library, altering words and plots (Sonya shoots Raskolnikov in the street in the diseased copy of Dostoevsky’s Crime And Punishment). In the middle of this chaos is beloved children’s author Laura White, the keeper of the Rabbit Back Literature Society, composed of a group of children she mentored and manipulated into famous authors in their own right.
The Society had nine such members, until the heroine of the story returns to her hometown of Rabbit Back and is inducted as the final 10th member. Ella brings her own set of problems to the group, and the other members ruthlessly exploit them as part of “the game.” Foraging for new material, the writers of The Rabbit Back Literature Society interrogate each others’ personal lives, and Ella represents fresh meat. But she has motivations of her own: uncovering the secrets that lie at the heart of the Society, especially of its founder, Laura White.
Others have compared the book to Twin Peaks, which is apt. Like David Lynch, Jääskeläinen appears more interested in introducing and exploring mysteries than he is in solving them, aided by a supernatural presence that haunts the town and the murkiness of its inhabitants’ memories. Jääskeläinen does an exceptional job creating a densely mysterious setting, then takes his time teasing out a mystery here, an odd occurrence there, guiding the reader into a positively creeped-out state of mind without ever spelling anything out as scary: more “Sleepy Hollow” than a straight murder story. Jääskeläinen propels Ella to seek answers to the best questions she can muster, but her attempts to understand, like the reader’s, don’t do much to explain what’s going on.
The resulting novel is equal measures enjoyable and frustrating. As the story crescendos to a climax, those action-packed pages do little to explain the strange events that swirl though Rabbit Back like snow on the wind. But that’s also what makes The Rabbit Back Literature Society so valuable: It’s one of those rare books that trusts its readers far more than it should, allowing them to piece together clues and suggestions without providing easy answers. I’m amassing my own theories about the novel’s events and Ella’s involvement in them. Anyone who picks up this book will have to do the same.