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The Year of the Angry Rabbit

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Pan, London, 1967
(originally published by Wm Heinemann, 1964)
price: 3/6; 160 pages

The blurb on the back:

‘Jolly horror’ - Spectator
’Bitter fun’ -
Sunday Times
’A scary tale’ -
’A very different sort of humour … intercontinental, sadistic’ -
Sunday Telegraph

- As you can see, there’s never been a book like this before.
How did Australia become the most feared nation in the world?
What was the mystery surrounding oil-millionaire Alfred Hill’s death?
Why did an all-powerful prime minister confine leading scientists in an asylum?
The extraordinary answers to extraordinary questions emerge with fascinating tension from this absorbing novel of the future.

opening lines:
Actually it was a telephone call to the Prime Minister that began it. Began three years of Australian world supremacy, not just in tennis, swimming and cricket – to which the natives had long since become complacently accustomed – but in everything.

This is great fun, a wild political satire set in the late-1990s that spirals off into all sorts of odd directions. We start with the emergence of myxomatosis-resistant rabbits posing a potential threat to Australian farming. The government decides to research a more powerful virus to put an end to the problem once and for all, and the scientists come up with Supermyx. Unfortunately it doesn’t harm the rabbits, but is instantly fatal to humans. At which point the Aussie Prime Minister realizes he has the most powerful biological weapon ever on his hands, and quite reasonably decides that it’s time for his country to take over as the rulers of the whole world.

The ramifications and consequences of that decision are far too detailed to go into – the pace is relentless – but it’s very funny. It’s also very cynical. Here, for example, is the Prime Minister explaining to his Defence Secretary what his job is:

’Cabinet Ministers are to make government responsible. In other words, if I make a policy decision which turns out to be wrong. I sack the Minister who’s been putting my policy into effect because he should have known better. This is called, as you very well know, macmillaning.’ (p.88)

I love that use of then-current events to generate new terminology. In the same way the Churches have decided ‘that there really wasn’t a God, only a Woolwich’ (p.66), while the numbers of civil servants have swollen ‘to quite terrifying and parkinsonian proportions’ (p.32). Just one more quote, ‘cos I love this one; here’s the Prime Minister telling the press why he’s appointed the worst possible man as Defence Secretary:

’General Sir Alan Jacks has never once, since 1940, been right about anything. It is totally unreasonable to expect that any man, unless he be possessed of supernatural powers, can sustain such a record much longer. Soon, therefore, he’s going to break it. Any day now, General Sir Alan Jacks is going to be right. And when, soon, he is, I want him, gentlemen, to be right not just on behalf of my government but also on behalf of Australia.’ (p.24)

If, like me, you only know Russell Braddon for The Naked Island, his book about the fall of Singapore and the subsequent Japanese prisoner-of-war camps, then this will be a revelation. Not perfect, but very, very entertaining.


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