The Rabbits by Sophie Overett
Right from page one of this distinctive new novel by debut author Sophie Overett, I had the strangest feeling that I was in an Alice in Wonderland-type story. There’s a sense of oppression, the feeling of being watched, the keen sense that something very wrong is about to happen. It’s hot inside this book. Very hot. People are sweating. Clothes stick to their backs. Food is constantly going off and stinking. There are maggots squirming on the kitchen floor. Everyday family life is mixed in with a level teaspoon of surrealism.
Centred around the disappearance of Charlie Rabbit, The Rabbits is a twisted tale of family dysfunction, but at the same time thuddingly suburban. Charlie’s mother Delia is having an inappropriate affair with one of her art students. His sister Olive seems determined to piss off everyone in her orbit. The youngest child Benjamin is struggling to get anyone’s attention. And that’s before we discover that Charlie Rabbit hasn’t exactly disappeared – well, he has, but not in the conventional sense that the police and his family think. Added to Charlie’s disappearing act, is the unsettling fact that Charlie’s aunt, Bo, also went missing years ago.
This is a book that compels you to keep reading, late into the night, because you want to know what the hell is going on. It’s no surprise Overett’s manuscript for The Rabbits won the Penguin Literary Prize in 2020. The writing is deft and agile, the concept is original, the craftsmanship impressive. This is a writer who actually creates physical sensations inside the reader with her descriptions and her sense of doom. But it’s a doom that is balanced with lightness and a sense that maybe everything will work out in the end. This is a truly original story that will keep you hooked right through to the delicious ending.
Gabrielle Williams works as a bookseller at Readings Malvern, is the Grants Officer for the Readings Foundation, and is the Prize Manager for The Readings Prize.