Review: The Pet Rabbit by Silapa Jarun

Ono Suzue: A Man of Talent in the Meiji Era
Part One: The Pet Rabbit
by Silapa Jarun

Review by Alex Beecroft

Ono Suzue is the son of a samurai.  His father took the boy to war with him, exposing him to horrors which have permanently scarred his psyche.  Now he is a westernised doctor, whose hobby is the development of morphine.  With the aid of morphine and hypnosis he takes over the life of one of his students, Kawano Tomoji, who he trains to be his docile pet rabbit.  He also has a more sinister task in mind for the young man, intending him to kill the Emperor, in an act that Ono believes will finally bring peace to Japan.

This book, therefore, has an interesting concept.  The protagonist, Ono, is vile, inhuman, unsympathetic, and yet he has understandable reasons for being as psychopathic as he is.  There’s even the possibility that underneath his murderous exterior there may lurk the heart of someone who honestly is trying to do good.  This too is an interesting concept for a protagonist, and in other hands this could have been a good book.

Unfortunately that is the best I can say of it.  It’s a bad sign when a book begins with a piece of poetry which contains a prominent spelling mistake: “Now a piller of the state he stands”?

If the keynote poem in the very beginning is misspelled, what can we expect of the general level of proof-reading and literary merit?  Not much, alas.  And not much is exactly what we get.  I hate to be completely negative but I have never encountered such clunky, badly written language in a published book.  Listen to this:

“… Look into its eyes,” said the handsome teacher, “watch its pupils dilate”. The Kawano gently caressed the animal’s head and looked up into his teacher’s face and smiled, “they’re beautiful.”

“Mine or the feline’s?” Ono mused.

The student looked down at the animal and breathed, “yours sensei.”

Ono’s mask was enhanced with a warm expression, “Kawano-san please bring the cat to me.”

‘The’ Kawano is used instead of ‘Kawano’ – which is the man’s name.  This interchange is going on in front of a lecture hall full of students – so what’s with the sudden, inappropriate descent into flirting?  (Only a moment ago these two had never spoken to each other.)  As for ‘Ono’s mask’ – I believe the author means ‘face’.  Unless he’s actually wearing a mask, on which he’s drawn a warm expression, of course.

And this is only on the first page.  It carries on.  Point of view shifts in the middle of sentences; people being referred to by four or five different signifiers in a single paragraph…

“Do you have plans for this evening? If not, come by my estate,” he handed a card with his address printed in English, “Frock coat is adequate my servant will prepare a Western meal of course.”

How could Kawano decline? “I’m honored to attend.” He looked at the print, “Sensei, why is your first name Suzue?” It is usually a woman’s name.

“I’ll tell the story behind my name another day,” You have become fascinated with me and I with you.

Info-dumps, strange, jerky attempts by the author to convey what they want the reader to know in ways that the characters – if they were real people – would never behave or think.  Irrelevances – I don’t believe we ever do find out the significance behind ‘Suzue’, though after this build-up I was waiting to see what it was.

The structure of the novel suffers from the same heavy-handedness and lack of coherency.  For the first three quarters of the book Ono’s back story is interleaved between the ‘modern’ scenes with Kawano, so that you’ve only just settled into one period before you’re whipped back to the other.  And the back story – which should be dramatic and traumatic – is hampered by the inability of the language to rise to the occasion.

Ryuichi looked as well and saw that some legs and fingers were black and curling in the bonfire. Many heads were thrown back or hung forward. The smell became unbearable and he buried his face in his father’s waist. Smoke began to assault the eyes of the perpetrators and spectators. They walked away from the burning heap of their own evil act.
 
Perhaps as a reader I’m not willing to put in enough work to turn this into a horrifying scene, but I generally expect that the language will not need my help.  It should be up to the writer to hold me in their spell, not up to me to weave it for them.

Having said that, any possibility the author might have had of sucking the reader into their world and allowing the story to build up steam is thwarted by the massive footnotes which poke randomly into the ebook.  As a lover of history I am glad to see the author did their research, but I would rather that – if that information was relevant – it was worked into the story.  And if it wasn’t relevant, or couldn’t be worked in, I would rather it was left out altogether, or at least gathered in one lump at the back, where it wouldn’t keep interrupting the flow of the story.

As to the story itself – as I say, it could have been interesting, but in my opinion it failed in its promise.  Not just because of the poor writing, but also because so much effort was put into telling how Kawano was made into a docile pet that the idea that he was suddenly also meant to be an assassin came across as a bit hard to believe.  The training or pacification of the boy was, I believe, meant to be erotic.  To me, however, it was so very reminiscent of Anne Cain and Barbara Sheridan’s Dragon’s Disciple books that I kept thinking with regret about how much more I had enjoyed those.

It does grieve me to say this, but other than the concept of the book, I cannot find anything to praise.  There is the germ of a good book in there, but it’s unfortunate that the writer’s abilities are not yet at a level where they’re able to justice to it.

There’s an extraordinary website on this and the books yet to come, here

Buy the book

4 Responses

  1. I’m sorry the book was not up to standards. Fortunately however the error you mentioned is not on the lulu.com pdf version at all. The version I sent you was a saved version retrieved from a technical error (I did not own a computer at the time and used whatever software was on the borrowed machine—either word, openoffice.org and kept converting the file). I’m sorry I did not see the typo although I did use the spell check. I apologize.

  2. Thank you for taking the time to read the work though.

  3. Thank you for taking the time to comment, and I can only say I admire you for it. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to be more positive about the book – and I sympathize with the software problems a great deal!

    I see that you’re self-published. Have you considered joining a critique group, or finding someone to act as an editor for you? If you’re interested, I’m in the early stages of forming a critique group myself with a few writing friends, and we’d love to have you, if you’d like to join us.

  4. To answer some questions in the review:
    I don’t believe we ever do find out the significance behind ‘Suzue’, though after this build-up I was waiting to see what it was.

    The title of the work indicates it is the first chapter of a series. The name and other details are explained in later installments. That’s why the full label says: “ONO SUZUE: A MAN OF TALENT IN THE MEIJI ERA {Book 1} “THE PET RABBIT””

    The training or pacification of the boy was, I believe, meant to be erotic.

    Actually there was a practical purpose in the pacification of the boy. It was explained at the end. You stated it as well “Now he is a westernised doctor, whose hobby is the development of morphine”. Tomoji was his test subject as well. This was emphasized at the end when Ono is in Germany with the Beyer company. (It’s ok that your review and my comment contains spoilers–this is a learning experience for me.)

    I see that you’re self-published. Yes, the work is on Lulu.com for $0.25 (originally priced at a whopping $1.25). It was posted to adultfanfiction and had many readers but no reviews, once I put it on Lulu I received input—from as far away as Thailand. That’s why I put it on sale. I certainly wasn’t trying to rip off readers by pandering a working lacking any merit.

    Lulu.com shopping cart also ensures that readers are above the age of 18. Were it not for the adult content in the work, I would make the story a free download on my blog or site.

    No, I can’t join a critique group due to limited time on the computer and besides I’m not sure how I would be able to reciprocate in such an arrangement since I’m on a different level, but thanks for the offer.

    Sorry about the footnotes.

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