Robert Rankin,
The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies
of the Apocalypse

(Orion, 2002)

Robert Rankin, a British novelist, has been compared to fellow writer Terry Pratchett. Rankin apparently resents the comparison, if Internet sources are to be believed -- which is odd, since Pratchett is the one who should be seeking damages for defamation of character. The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse, which shows a lot of promise through the creativity of its title alone, disappoints. And, while I later learned Rankin has a sizable backlist of novels to his credit, Hollow Chocolate Bunnies reads like the first novel of a person who's seen a lot of very funny books and figures he can do just as well.

Credit where due, Rankin has his moments. The meeting between our hero Jack and a rotund farmer en route to the city is good for some laughs for the setup alone. A head-patting scene in a city pub drew an abrupt, unexpected chuckle. And there are occasional passages worth a moment's grin. But the story, which is based on a clever idea, deserved better than this.

Rankin has a witty way about him that comes across in his writing about half of the time. At other times, I puzzled over his meaning, trying to discern the hint of humor I surely was missing. For instance, "Jack steered his weary feet across a carpet that was much of a muchness as carpets went, but hardly much of anything as they might go." It's written as if it's funny, sure, but I just don't get the joke.

The setting is fuzzy. Timewise, it reads like a pre-industrial fable, but there are the occasional cars and lightbulbs in use. Jack, age 13, drinks an unexpected amount of alcohol in the story, which Rankin unsuccessfully plays for laughs. The lengthy scene in which the boy, still 13, loses his virginity in a whorehouse to an experienced, 13-year-old hooker is more distasteful than funny, but Rankin seems to think it's a jolly good lark.

Rankin obviously loves the sound of his own prose, which trips off the tongue like drunken manatee. Consider:

The moon, shining down upon the city, shone down also upon Jack, shone down upon the body of Jack, that was lying strewn in an alleyway. The moon didn't care too much about Jack. But then, the moon didn't care too much about anything. Caring wasn't in the moon's remit. The moon was just the moon, and on nights when there wasn't any cloud about, it just shone down, upon anything and everything really, it didn't matter what to the moon. The moon had seen most things before, and would surely see them again. And as for all the things that the moon hadn't seen, well, it would see them too, eventually. On nights when there wasn't any cloud about.
Not that it would care too much when it did.
It was a moon thing, not caring.
The moon couldn't help the way it was.

By the end of this passage, I'd completely stopped caring.

The conclusion of the book is a complete trainwreck, a mess of "surprise" revelations, sudden twists and reversals that make little sense. It's more annoying than satisfying.

This book bears an inarguable similarity in many ways to Jasper Fforde's The Big Over Easy; Rankin's version admittedly came first, but Fforde's is a markedly superior work.

by Tom Knapp
24 June 2006

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