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Novel set in Indiana

22nd September 2022

The Rabbit Hutch by Tess Gunty, novel set in Indiana.

Novel set in Indiana

Winner of the Waterstones Debut Fiction Prize 2022.

I noted that the author won the Waterstones Debut Fiction Prize 2022 and that lured me to read it, plus, it’s unusual to find a prominent novel set in Indiana. It also has a very bright and eye catching cover to attract readers.

It is set in fictional Vacca Vale and there is a real sense that both the apartment block of the title and the town have seen better days. It all feels quite dismal and decrepit, a town dying on its feet, people struggling in an environment that is not conducive to mental well-being.

From the opening scene of violence, the story loops back over the previous few days to set the events in context. The story slides into the Rabbit Hutch apartments, inhabited by a variety of occupants, and focusses mainly on Blandine, who is just out of the care system and living with three young men. Another resident is a young mother and the paragraphs devoted to describing her bonding with her new baby are beautifully rendered, even though it is on many levels a struggle; the snapshot of prose is a good example of the quality of the writing that this author can deliver.

Blandine is fascinated by the lives of female mystics, their tragic lives perhaps mirroring her own cycle of despair, agony and ecstasy (which, let’s be honest, is in short supply for Blandine). There are varying levels of attention to other characters, which can make the narrative feel a little uneven. The author touches on some big themes like loss, mental health, family and faith and moves the story through a variety of moods ranging from darkness to humour. You will be introduced to the pigmy 3-toed sloth, and you will hear one character pull together “A Selection of Life Lessons in No Particular Order”, penned by an elderly woman who is writing her ‘auto-obituary”, in other words she is writing her own obituary. Under point 8 she exhorts her readers to open bathroom doors cautiously, especially in Manhattan, Paris, Berlin, Singapore and more (totally 8 locations).. Listicles are all very well, but…

I think, for me, the author has a real gift of being able to write but in this novel had too many balls in the air, all – often chaotically and non-sequentially – vying for attention, threaded through with quirkiness that just didn’t tend to resonate with me.

I listened to this as an audiobook – the narrators were very good – but perhaps the novel just doesn’t translate well into this medium.

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