Source of book: Audiobook from the library
This is another installment in the series of “books my kids have read and wanted me to hear.”
We listen to audiobooks on our vacations, to help pass the time and keep me awake. In this case, the book was selected by my eldest daughter. However, it appears that both of my older daughters have read it, and knew all the jokes already. Okay, except for a few ones that dear old dad was elderly enough to get.
The book is entitled, Mr. and Mrs. Bunny, Detectives Extraordinaire, by Mrs. Bunny. Translated from the Rabbit by Polly Horvath. The title is indeed a bit in on the joke, so to speak, but the book appears to have been, um, edited a bit by the said Mrs. Horvath, as it is far too unbiased to have been truly Mrs. Rabbit’s original. However, at least Mrs. Rabbit would have been better than Mr. Rabbit, who, it appears, picked the title over Mrs. Rabbit’s preference of Madeline and the Detectives.
So, Madeline, a young girl with impossibly hippy parents, is really the only adult in the family. She supports them, despite their best attempts to squander her income on Luminaria decorations. She wants nothing more than to get white shoes so she can attend her graduation (6th grade, I think?) where none other than Prince Charles will be presenting the awards. (This is set in Vancouver, Canada, so he is technically prince there too.)
However, a few days before, her parents are mysteriously kidnapped, and she has to find them before time runs out.
At this point, things start to get seriously surreal. The kidnappers turn out to be foxes, and not the figurative sort. They need Madeline's parents because they can lead the foxes to Madeline's uncle, who is a code cracker for the secret service, and without the ability to read code, they can’t decode their heirloom recipes, and without the recipes, they can’t open their new factory for making canned rabbit products and by-products. (What’s a by-product? is one of the recurring jokes…)
But, unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, Madeline’s parents are so out there that they are pretty much stoned even without chemical help, and they can’t recall an address to save their lives. (Literally.) It is only Madeline who can tell them, so she has to find a way to locate and rescue her parents before it is too late.
Oh, and the uncle is sick, and falls into a coma (in a rather darkly hilarious manner). So he is no help.
Enter Mr. and Mrs. Rabbit, recently moved into town from the mountains, and in search of a new hobby to fill the time left by the kids leaving the nest. So, they decide to become detectives, if for no other reason than that it requires them to buy fedoras.
Naturally, they are completely hopeless, and more hinderance to poor Madeline than a help.
And then, there is the fun of trying to enlist the services of a marmot. Suffice it to say that marmots do not come off well in this story. Fluffy of brain, and incapable of focus, they seem to care primarily about obtaining garlic bread from The Old Spaghetti Factory.
As you can tell, this has gotten pretty ludicrous, but the suspension of disbelief is crucial to many a story.
This is a modern book, and, as such, peppered with modern cultural references, from carbon footprints to google. But they are all thrown together in a bizarre mix that seems of our time but no recognizable time at all. I haven’t seen the print version, but if the cover is any indication, the illustrations are very retro, a bit of a sly twist on the modern style.
I’ll admit, at first, I wasn’t sure what to make of the book. It starts of with all human characters, and it seemed to be mostly poking fun at the worst of hippydom. And then, when the animals appeared, it went down the rabbit hole, so to speak. By the middle, though, I found myself drawn into the story, and snickering a bit at the jokes - even the ones my kids didn’t get. (I think I need to show them some gangster movies.)
By all means, don’t read this book expecting old fashioned innocence and wide-eyed sincerity. It has that modernist winking quality about it, but a warm heart too. Even with a bizarre family, Madeline retains her loyalty and her compassion, while Mr. and Mrs. Bunny strike a blow against busybodies and tribalists everywhere, and come out triumphant in their own way.
Note on Marmots:
Lest anyone get the wrong impression about marmots from this book, they are hardly the simpering scatterbrains of the animal world. A squirrel is to a marmot as a punter is to an offensive lineman.
In addition to their imposing size, marmots are known to be a risk for chewing through wires, belts, and hoses on cars. (True story. They have warnings up at Mineral King in Sequoia National Park, and a friend remembers having a car “vandalized” when she was a kid.)