Never Trust a Rabbit
by Jeremy Dyson

Abacus
2007 (first published 2000)

Paperback
First Collection







"One minute you’re here. The next you’re gone. And where you go to nobody knows."


Reviewed by Calum Kerr

I first read this collection back in 2000 upon its first publication. I had no idea who Jeremy Dyson was, nor the comedy-group, The League of Gentlemen, of which he is a part. Even when I found out, I didn’t care. Never Trust a Rabbit has been, for me, the key output from this multi-talented writer, and is one of those story collections which stays with you. I can’t even remember the number of people who I have forced this book upon with the injunction, "You must read this!"

So, what, you may ask, is so special about these stories? Dyson writes within a genre which he refers to as "strange fiction". It exists in a gap between straightforward realism, magical realism, horror, science fiction and fantasy. He manages to create utterly believable scenarios which then lead you somewhere unlikely and which haunt you long after you’ve read them.

The title of the collection purports to come from a Hugarian proverb. However, Dyson admits in the Forward to the most recent edition, this itself is a fiction, and so even before we start reading we have been wrong-footed.

The first story, We Who Walk Through Walls, examines the concept of belief both in terms of modern ideas of magic and illusion, and also in terms of religion. This is then followed by a more traditional tale of the uncanny in the form of A Slate Roof in the Rain where an illustration in a children’s book of fairy-tales proves to be a sinister premonition.

By this point in the collection one would be forgiven for thinking these were all likely to be stories with a fantastical theme. However, upon reaching the third story in the collection, the reader starts to realize that something more is going on here. At Last is a firmly realist story. There is nothing impossible or magical in the events which occur, but the effect of the story is lasting. This is a story which has refused to leave my mind in the 11 years since I read it, as the emotional impact it carries is hard to shake, something which might be unexpected from what appears to be a collection of genre stories.

City Deep
is another stand-out story. It continues the unease created in earlier stories and makes good use of traditional tropes of claustrophobia and the fear of the dark, but transfers them into the seemingly safe setting of a London tube train.

The way that the fantastical is woven into reality in these stories can perhaps best be summed up by the opening of A Visit from Val Koran:
Freddy, not for the first time, was thinking about the star in Miranda’s bedroom. They had both noticed it in the morning, quite early, high up on the whitewashed wall behind her bed … A strange, luminous star, looking as if it had been stenciled onto the woodchip. 
The setting is recognizably realistic with the commonplace forenames and the woodchip on the bedroom walls, and in such a setting the sudden appearance of a star is made to feel somehow unremarkable, taking us effortlessly into the strangeness that follows.

And this feeling continues through stories about cash machines which tell the future, about being sold a moment of realization in a high-street auction, and in The Maze about the possibility and consequences of attempting to recapture your childhood.

The final story, All In The Telling, takes the concept of stories themselves, but looks at them through the same disturbing lens as the rest of the collection, with the hero waiting in a brothel for a girl to tell his tale to. It is a fitting conclusion to this discomfiting collection.

Never Trust a Rabbit features a range of moods and feelings in stories which present the world we know reflected in a funhouse mirror. It never quite slides all the way into horror or fantasy, but always holds us within a world which just might exist. The writing is tight and clear, and the endings – while often surprising – are never gratuitous or tacked-on, but always emerge logically from the preceding tale.

This has been one of my favourite books for over a decade. What greater recommendation do you need? 




Calum Kerr is a writer and lecturer living in Southampton. His flash-fiction project is online at flash365.blogspot.com. He is the editor of Gumbo Press and the co-ordinator for National Flash-fiction Day. His stories and poems have appeared in a number of anthologies, journals and magazines.
                     
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Jeremy Dyson is a member of the comedy group, The League of Gentlemen. He is the one who never appears on screen. His second collection, entitled The Cranes That Build the Cranes, won the 2010 Edge Hill Prize. He has also published one novel: What Happens Now.