Winner of the 2020 Penguin Literary Prize.
How do you make sense of the loss of those you love most?
Delia Rabbit has asked herself this question over and over again since the disappearance of her older sister, Bo. Crippled by grief, Delia and her mother became dysfunctional, parting ways not long after Delia turned eighteen.
Now an art teacher at a Queensland college, Delia has managed to build a new life for herself and to create a family of her own. Only more and more that life is slipping: her partner, Ed, has gone, her daughter, Olive, is distancing herself, and, all of a sudden, in the middle of a blinding heatwave, her sixteen-year-old son, Charlie, disappears too.
Suddenly what was buried feels close to the surface, and the Rabbits are faced not only with each other, but also with themselves.
Sophie Overett’s The Rabbits is a multigenerational literary novel interwoven with magical realism. At its core, The Rabbits explores family and loneliness, a loss of connection among loved ones, and reconnecting during times of heartache.
Set over a relative short time period, the story follows the Rabbit family — mother Delia, ex-partner Ed, and their three children Olive, Charlie and Benjamin. One day, Charlie disappears. For Delia, it brings back the painful memories of her childhood when her sister Bo died.
“They’re there within the hour, the blue and red lights flashing through the gap in the curtains, and Olive peers cautiously out her window as two police officers step out of the car…it’s not long before she hears the front door crack open and the police officers step inside, hears their quiet, considered words to Delia, and Delia’s harried response.”
Set in suburban Brisbane, Sophie captures the layers of contemporary family life in Queensland. It’s not just about the steamy, humid weather or school or trauma, it’s about the tense relationship between mother and daughter, the fractured relationship between mother and father, and how when Charlie goes missing, they all slowly come together to process this new family dynamic.
There’s a certain poignancy to this novel — a sensitive caress. This story is more character-driven than plot-driven, and Sophie uses magical realism to peel back the layers of the Rabbits so they can begin to heal. There’s beauty in the unknown here, and going into this novel with no knowledge of how the magical realism will be embedded proves an interesting read indeed. I loved finding out how the story was going to progress, and how elements of the magical were going to be interwoven. Whilst the elements of the unreal are never really explained or resolved, I don’t think they need to be. There’s beauty in what’s left unsaid.
“Her voice is weedy, wiry, like it’s distorted through a line somehow, and Olive can’t help it — the way it drips like petrol into the constant embers of her anger. Her chest suddenly aches, and she wishes she was somewhere else.”
Written in third person, the chapters alternate POV between the different members of the Rabbit family, and sometimes it was a little unclear at first whose story we were in. It could take a minute to determine the transfer of perspective, especially if the scene involved more than one Rabbit.
Other than that, Sophie’s writing is near faultless and the story grips you from the opening chapters. Her writing is seamless and the dialogue realistic. Tender moments between siblings and friends help carry the story forward, and I think this novel will attract a broad audience.
“Delia’s pencil makes quick work on the tracing paper, righting the slant, the scale, the shading that angles the lurching gum trees so strangely. It’s an easy practice. The shadow of an old habit, and out of the corner of her eye she can see the girl watching with wide eyes, her cheeks flushed, her throat quivering in embarrassment or admiration, Delia doesn’t really care to know.”
Captivating, rich and beautifully written, The Rabbits is recommended for literary readers. Readership skews female, 25+
Thank you to the publisher for sending me a review copy in exchange for an honest review.
Penguin Random House Publishers