Set in contemporary Spain, Rabbit Island offers readers a recognisable world, subtly twisted by Navarro’s dark prose. This somewhat nightmarish collection, in an excellent translation by Christina MacSweeney, hovers between reality and delusion, subtly weaving psychological and supernatural occurrences into everyday situations.
In the title story, an ‘inventor of things that have already been invented’ inhabits a deserted island on the Guadalquivir River. Fed up with urban life and preoccupied with uninhabited places, he sets up a small red tent in the island’s undergrowth. He spends his days exploring the island’s flora and fauna, and screaming at the thousands of unidentifiable birds that live there. One day, he decides to introduce rabbits to the island, and as the colony grows, he begins to recognise them as an extension of himself. But as in many of the stories in this brilliant collection, things very quickly take a darker turn. When he witnesses them eating the island’s hatchlings, the narrator realises he has raised carnivorous rabbits. The bird population decreases, but the rabbits still have a taste for flesh and turn to eating their young. Although horrified by their cannibalism, in a disturbing, yet poetic metaphor, the narrator still cannot help empathising with the animals. Despite identifying closely with many animal species, humans continue to impact on nature in a harmful, sometimes grotesque way. This striking and unsettling story is a grim, yet truthful take on human intervention, and on our intentions and their consequences.
The rest of the collection’s stories centre on strong yet afflicted women. Extremely determined and resolute, these characters often have an unnerving edge. For example, we meet a chef living in the same hotel at which she works, who, disillusioned by her job, begins to experience the dreams of the guests. We meet a woman with a paw growing from her ear, who escapes North Africa so that she can she hide her deformity under a hijab; and then there’s the woman convinced that her late mother’s ghost is attempting to contact her via Facebook. Reflecting the alienation and confusion of modern life, the characters are often unable to determine whether these events are actually happening, or if they are simply illusions; the reader is placed in the same position.
The stories in Rabbit Island are beautiful, disconcerting and unsettling. Blurring the lines between reality and imagination, dreams and nightmares, beauty and ugliness, Navarro presents a brilliant and disturbing collection that will stay with the reader for a long time.
Reviewed by Alice Banks
by Elvira Navarro
translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney
published by Two Lines Press (2021)
June 2021 #RivetingReviews titles are available to buy from bookshop.org.
Alice Banks is a copy editor and literary translator from French and Spanish based in Ciudad Real, Spain. After graduating with a French degree from Bangor University, Alice went on to study for an MA in Literary Translation at the University of East Anglia. She currently volunteers for both The European Literature Network and Asymptote Journal.
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