Review: Watership Down

“Rabbits (says Mr. Lockley) are like human beings in many ways. One of these is certainly their staunch ability to withstand disaster and to let the stream of their life carry them along, past reaches of terror and loss. They have a certain quality which it would not be accurate to describe as callousness or indifference. It is, rather, a blessedly circumscribed imagination and an intuitive feeling that Life is Now. A foraging wild creature, intent above all upon survival, is as strong as the grass.

 

I picked up Richard Adam’s Watership Down at my local Waterstones recently, not really sure what to expect from it. I had only ever seen the film when I was very young, and, having virtually no memory of it, was going into the novel completely blind. After buying it, a number of people said how sad it was, and so I spent most of the time bracing for some terrible, titanic-like tear jerker that fortunately, I never found.

What I did find was a novel that, despite being to all intents and purposes, about rabbits– and it really is, much as the novel may be termed to have much to say about humans- was very fast-paced, dark and dramatic, with rarely a dull moment to be .found. It is not a childrens book in any sense. Yes it may be true that it is as much a commentary about humans as anything else, there is an awful lot of rabbits in there- both literally and figuratively, as rabbit words (such as ni-frith) and rabbit mythology (the tales of el-ahrairah) interspersed throughout the novel. This does give it elements of childrens literature, but the sheer darkness and violence of the novel can be striking at times- as well as the deep politics involved in the novel, evident through the choosing of Hazel over Bigwig as Chief Rabbit (which surprised more than just the rabbits within the initial grouping) and the inclusion of other animals within the plot.

At times it appears it is just a simple “journey” story, for the rabbits to find their forever home, which in theory, would not take up much page space. What makes the novel different is that Adams appears to spot the plot-holes that would otherwise be there, and have the rabbits solve them- practical considerations, such as breeding, protection and food must be taken into account, so that whenver it may appear that the novel has come t an end, it truly has not, and there is much more to come, which in the case of this novel is a more than welcome surprise.

I have to say that this truly is one of the best novels I’ve read- or at least, one of the only ones I would go so far as to use the term “unputdownable” for in the sense that you really can’t stop reading because it feels so essential to know what happens next, and can only wish that there were more to be read.

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