King of Rabbits by Karla Neblett review – a heartfelt debut

Family breakdown is observed from a child’s perspective in a novel about poverty, race and inherited trauma

Childhood is a state of absolute dependency, so what happens when a child’s caregivers are struggling with dependency of a different kind? Karla Neblett’s debut novel, King of Rabbits, tells the story of Kai, the fourth child in a mixed-raced family on a rural council estate, whose parents are sliding headlong into crack addiction. At five, Kai wants nothing more than to be the fastest sprinter at school and to hang out with the rabbits he loves because “they live in big families” and “have real feelings and look after each other”. But as the tale progresses his own family begins to fall apart like the glass pipe with “black gaffer tape wound round it” through which his mother and father smoke their “stinky stuff”.

Neblett is perceptive about the ways in which dysfunction is handed down through generations. When Kai is told off for getting into a playground scuffle, he discovers a glaring contradiction between official morality and that of his parents: “At home, if he pushed one of the girls, they pushed back … Dad said when someone pissed you off, you had it out.” However bad Kai’s domestic situation, the services charged with protecting him pose a greater threat; he has heard dark rumours “of kids getting taken away by horrible grownups” after which “they had to live with other families”. Even the protagonist’s sense of smell indicates his home is different from other local families: “Their houses smelled spicy and of pizza dough. Kai’s house always smelled like fags and burnt toast.” Kai finds relief in an affecting friendship with Saffie, and in the local woodland, where “Just before spring, starlings danced over the valley … Watching them made me feel I could fly too.”

Continue reading...


Reward System by Jem Calder review – slaves to the algorithm

Six interlinked stories from a superb new writer about young Londoners and their smartphone addictio...

Read More >

Lost & Found by Kathryn Schulz review – reflections on grief and falling in love

The Pulitzer prize winner reflects on losing her father and finding a partner, in book that combines...

Read More >

Last Resort by Andrew Lipstein review – a hipster literary romp

A stolen idea has consequences for an aspiring author in this self-conscious satirical caper about t...

Read More >

Life, After by Antoine Leiris review – embracing the now

Six years after the Bataclan attack in which his wife was killed, Leiris writes a deft study of memo...

Read More >

A Time Outside This Time by Amitava Kumar review – #fakenews onslaught

An erudite attempt to skewer our media overload amid the sound and fury of the Trump years – but ch...

Read More >

Who They Was by Gabriel Krauze review – the double life of a London gangster

The tension between the author’s ultraviolent life on the streets and his university studies are at...

Read More >