When God was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman

Now, what can I say about When God was a Rabbit?

So many words have been written between the time first learned about it and the time, today, I am ready to write about it.

That’s partly because I took my time. You see it looked as if it could be very special, and so I wanted to enjoy the anticipation, pick the book up to admire for a while, read when the moment was right, ponder for a while afterwards ….

And partly because, while I was on that journey, When God was a Rabbit was selected for the Richard & Judy Bookclub. Now I see copies everywhere I go and reactions from readers here, there and everywhere.

I couldn’t be more pleased, because I loved the book. It wasn’t perfect, but it was one of those books that had such charm that its weak points made me love it all the more.

It’s a story that’s not easily summed up, but I will start with some of the lovely words on the back copy of my copy.

“It’s a book about childhood and growing up, friendships and families, triumph and tragedy and everything in between.

More than anything, it’s a book about love in all it’s forms.”

When God was a Rabbit is exactly that.

It’s the story of Eleanor Maude, known as Elly, told by her in two acts. In the first act she is growing up in the 1970s, first in Essex and then in Cornwall after her parents win the football pools and decide to lead their family into a new lives as proprietors of a seaside b & b. And in the second she is an adult, a writer still not quite sure where she wants her life to go, but still wrapped up in the same network of family and friends.

Elly is lovely, and her voice is distinctive and true, but it is her extended family and their friends who really make the story sing. Every character is simply but beautifully drawn, and each has a little something to make them special and their own story that becomes part of the whole.

Let’s pull out just a few. There Nancy, Elly’s father’s sister, a successful actress with sharp wits who has many stories to tell, a lesbian who has a strong platonic bond with her sister-in-law, a woman with a wide social circle who still knows the importance of family and roots…  There’s Arthur, an elderly guest who came to the b & b and never left, a man who believes he can see the future and knows exactly when and how he will die, and in time a trusted confidante and teacher … There’s Joe, Elly’s  brother, five years older than the sister with whom he shares an unshakeable bond, a quiet outsider, a young man who decides that he is in love with his best friend and that no-one else will do … And, maybe best of all, there’s Jenny Penny, a misfit from a broken home, a child with such a distinctive worldview who becomes Elly’s closest friend. They are parted when Elly and her family move to Cornwall, they lose touch, but Jenny Penny will reappear in very strange circumstances…

I was irked though when God the Rabbit began to talk to Elly. The dash of magic realism felt wrong, there was more than enough going on already, and after a similar device in Pigeon English, I do hope that this isn’t a literary trend.

And these characters live through so many, maybe too many events. The things that happen to all families with children. Things that don’t happen to many people at all. Historical events that all seem to have personal consequences.

I’m going to mention just one, but no more. The school nativity play is so wonderfully, darkly funny. And that comes from someone who doesn’t usually like comic writing

But no more plot details – to get the best from this book you really should learn what happens and react to it in real time.

And you really should do that, if you haven’t already. Sarah Winman writes lovely idiosyncratic prose, she captures lives so perfectly, and she can make you laugh, cry, and feel every possible emotion that family and friends might inspire.

I was drawn into Elly’s world from the very first line, and it was such a shock when the story ended and I had to leave. But I have so many wonderful memories…

8 responses

  1. I was a bit sceptical about this book and have avoided it, perhaps I should challenge my scepticism and give it ago.

    A teasing review which makes me want to read it.

  2. I loved this too. Felt it lost it’s momentum at the beginning of the second part but quickly picked up. Lived through so many of the events which she sensitively handled. Lots going on but generally meshed beautifully. Didn’t mind the talking rabbit!

  3. Pingback: When God was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman |

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