The author, David Goodhart, has written a book called Head, Hand, Heart, in which he argues, I believe, that there should be a better balance between the status of professional, manual and caring professions. It’s on my list of books to read, but I keep putting it off, and now Antti Tuomainen has written The Rabbit Factor, Goodhart may have to carry on hanging on. The Rabbit Factor is what Tuomainen does best: an enjoyable, improbable romp that makes us think deeply about the right balance of the various components of our lives. In Factor, actuary Henri Koskinen is forced to recalculate the formulae by which he lives his life: a little less head, a bit more hand and a lot more heart. Tuomainen has read Taleb on black swans; I don’t know whether he’s read Goodhart but perhaps Goodhart should read the Finnish novelist.
The premise is this: 40-or-50-something Henri Koskinen is Viz’s Mr Logic. He runs his life by calculating probability trade-offs and by following Schopenhauer’s gloomy doctrines. He’s comfortable in his world and doesn’t see the value in straying outside it. When Finnish insurance companies introduce working practices that sit uncomfortably with him, he ends up unemployed and unemployable. But he inherits from his brother an adventure park (distinct from an amusement park – these things are, we learn, important) and some dodgy off-book loans that some heavies are trying to enforce. He has to immerse himself in a new industry, bring a fairly haphazard leadership team along with him, negotiate what seems to be his very first romantic liaison and think one step ahead of various men who are sent to kill him. So he flexes his skill-set and finds that methods he’d previously condemned might just work.
Henri should not be a character whom it’s easy to root for. He’s pedantic, cold and arrogant. But enough of the things that rile him are the things that rile the rest of us: bad inefficiencies, terrible management-speak, disrespect towards another person’s travelcard. And we’re not too keen on the organised crimelords who chase Henri through the Tumble Tunnel and Pinball Parlour in his park, bringing adventure but not amusement. In the meantime, we notice that he’s having a great effect on the misfits around him, who are thinking differently, even if the positive results aren’t clear yet.
We know enough about Henri’s story to understand that his way of thinking has arisen through a real need for order from his chaotic childhood. That means that although he seems to have the ability and flexibility to react quickly to his new circumstances, he hasn’t had the imagination (or given himself the freedom) to embrace the limitations of his frameworks: surely an actuary would understand that life is lived in the margins and that human beings take risks. His fellow characters certainly understand this, though they might not express it this way. By the end of the novel, Henri is becoming more rounded: this pleases us.
As ever with Antti Tuomainen, we have a novel that disguises the profound by exploring its boundaries with the mundane and ephemeral, which is built on black comedy, surreal steps and absurd twists. Those of us reading in English have a debt of gratitude to translator David Hackston. I can’t wait for this to be made into a movie. But better still is that The Rabbit Factor is the first in a trilogy. I can’t imagine Henri’s next adventures but I am looking forward to them. Probability of enjoyment: 100%.
Thanks to Orenda Books for the review copy and to Anne Cater for the blog tour invitation.