Saturday 29 November 2014

The Rabbit and the Shadow

The Rabbit and the Shadow by Melanie Rutten, translated by Sarah Ardizzone (Book Island)
HB RRP $32.95
ISBN 9780994109804
Reviewed by Dianne Bates

From the outset, this picture book tells you it is a story of a rabbit, a stag, a soldier, a cat, a book and a shadow. When the story proceeds, the book is broken into sections with headings, such as the Rabbit and the Stag, the Soldier, the Cat, and so on, each section being like a short story within a larger story.

I found this a difficult book to get my head around so it is definitely not for small children except as a work of (illustrative) art. The story is written in simple sentences that are sometimes quite poignant, such as ‘One day, the Rabbit appeared. There was a slight wind. And a shadow perhaps. Little ones sometimes appear like that. Like the wind. Or sometimes like a storm.’

A Rabbit is befriended by a Stag. A Soldier also befriends Rabbit; these two then meet up with Cat. Next, Book is attacked by Soldier, after which meets Stag. At this point there is a flashback with Rabbit and Stag discussing the nature of their love and the fact that nothing is forever. There is much more, but to be frank, although I loved the simplicity of the writing, I really didn’t fully understand what the story is about. Perhaps, I decided, because Rabbit appears to be the central character, it is about it learning life’s lessons. And perhaps the moral of the story is contained in a sentence on the final page: ‘This is the story of a Stag who doesn’t feel anxious anymore and a Rabbit who has grown up.’

The illustrations – and there are many of them, usually contained within a vignette, although there are full-page illustrations -- appear to be watercolour. They display a distinctive artistic style with ample use of golden yellow and bush green. The cover, showing Stag embracing Rabbit, is quite lovely.

 Trying to make sense of the story, I came to the conclusion that author Rutten uses all of the characters symbolically – the Rabbit as child, the Stag as parent, the Soldier and Shadow as life threats, the Book as one’s search for meaning, the egg as life to come, the Cat... not sure what it represents. It would be interesting to discuss this book and what it’s about with someone else who has read it, too. All I can do is to recommend it to you if you like a book which is out of the box, very different from a mainstream picture book.

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