Book review, Received for Review

The Water Rabbits by Paul Tarrago


Format: Paperback PicsArt_05-24-12.53.09-min.jpg

Length: 167 pages

Genre: Contemporary, Short story, Fiction

Publisher: Mistral Studios

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review

As a part of the Kate Tilton’s Book Bloggers team, Paul contacted me asking if I wanted to read his book for a review. I am always on the lookout for  new and experimental writing that can shake me up and this seemed to promise to deliver.

The Author

Paul Tarrago is a filmmaker and a writer based in London who works as a Lecturer at University of the Arts London. He uses both video and celluloid to create a mix of underground experimentation and metafiction, tugging at the leash of film language but with narrative often held close at hand.

His films have been widely shown in film festivals and gallery circuits. Like his films, his writing, although experimental is still very caught up with narrative.

His short story collections include:

  1. The Mascot Moth and several other pieces (2013)
  2. The Water Rabbits (2017)

The Blurb

This is my second writing collection, featuring fourteen short pieces. The approach is similar to my film work: formally venturesome rather than hard line experimental, taking pleasure in narrative and its plasticity; non-realist/pro-absurdist; engaged with not-quite-our-worlds, but ones which are still close enough etc. Narratively… the scenarios within ‘The Water Rabbits’ include: the reappearance of monsters in a town that has long since stopped believing in them; a plague of sinkholes; a consideration of the problems, merits and popularity of slow cookers; a sound-artist who specializes in recording bone growth; a drift through the streets of a city where the local authors have run out of things to say; and more, much more.

The Book

The Water Rabbits contains 14 short pieces with both prose and poems and the stories are not connected to each other. I am at a loss for words to describe the book. The stories were different from what most of us usually read. The stories by themselves are not the ‘shocking’ factor of the book. The bizarre scenes combined with the style of writing manages to create a reading adventure that confuses and then makes sense after you stop to think about it. Most of the stories contain narrative as well as dialogues mixed with each other and during the course of a conversation, the characters move in a tangent that the readers would not have seen coming. But that in itself makes up the actual story.

I didn’t like all of the stories in the book but I don’t think Paul intended for everyone to like each of the 14 pieces. Some did not make much sense to me while some spoke to me profoundly. These are some of the stories that are sure to stay with me for a long time.

  1. Absence of Monsters– Here a fictional town sees a resurgence of monsters in the woods surrounding it. The people however, exhibit typical ‘people’ behaviour and refuse to believe the fact that all the funny incidences are a result of the supernatural. The story shows how people start to lose trust in each other at the mere mention of something out of the ordinary. Herd mentality is showcased here. Children who see or feel the monsters are not believed and they slowly stop trusting and confiding in the adults . This is what we see even in a regular society. Stories told by children are never fully believed  even though they perceive their surroundings different from adults. It could also be argued that people who are termed as ‘Psychics’ and Schizophrenics may also be experiencing things differently and we don’t want to believe them for the fear of how society will view us.
  2. Arguments for an empty room– A statement that got me thinking here was “If we remove the walls (in an empty room) will the empty space cease to exist?” This is another interesting way of thinking about the old conundrum “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound”
  3. Under ground and over thought– It is a story of how a lady tries to create a piece for her art class. She consults her friends and family to see how they look at her work and modifies it accordingly. It shows how much thought and practice goes into every artist’s work and how much of their soul is put into it. We sometimes dismiss a work of art because we don’t find it esthetically pleasing but the work behind the art is something that only the artist will be aware of.
  4. The water rabbits– I was excited to read the story that the book was named after. It terrified me to think that a creature as docile as a rabbit could turn vicious so quickly. I actually stopped to google to see if this phenomenon was true but I won’t spoil the surprise for any of you.
  5. The new old– Here the author decides to go from saying ‘no’ to everything to saying ‘yes’. But since he cannot go from one absolute to the other so quickly, he decides to say ‘yes’ to everything on the first week of the first month, the first two weeks of the second month and so on until agreeing to things becomes second nature to him. He talks about how freeing it is to know the answer to questions before hand and how it takes away the stress of any situation. I wondered how he managed to not get overwhelmed with all the things that he has agreed to do but then he says that his capacity to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ was recalibrated with this exercise and he felt empowered. It seems like an interesting experiment and I would consider doing it at least once in my life.
  6. The Orphan– Here we see how we have an image set in our mind about a celebrity or a public figure based on what we see or read. This reminds me of the story of Vajramuni, a renowned actor in Kannada film industry who mostly played negative roles. People grew to fear and hate him because of the kind of roles that he did. However, on hearing the accounts of people who worked with him, he turned out to be a very nice man who was in the habit of appologising to his fellow actors before a scene for all the atrocities that he was going to act out with them. This stresses upon the fact that the public figures have a life of their own which we do not see and judging them based on the small percentage of things that we think we know about them is wrong. With the way media enters into the lives of every actor, pop star and politician and the easy access to internet that we now have, it is imperative that we remember that they are humans too and deserve to be seen as more than the parts that they play.

I am not a big fan of poetry in general and true to form, the poems in this book too did nothing for me. The Water Rabbits was different, absurd and experimental and it made me think which is more than what I can say for a lot of other books that I have recently read. I am still not sure if I thoroughly enjoyed the book and that is the reason for the 3.5 star rating.

TL;DR: A very interesting book that shakes you up and makes you think and look at situations from a different point of view.

Do you like to read writing that does not strictly adhere to the popular genre?

Tell me more in the comments below or on my Instagram @the_food_and_book_life

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