When God was a Rabbit – Sarah Winman

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Headline Review (3 Mar 2011)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 0755379284
  • ISBN-13: 978-0755379286
  • When God Was A Rabbit is one of Waterstone’s Top 11 for 2011 and that recommendation plus its wonderful title attracted me to this very impressive debut novel.

    The story is divided into two parts, 1968 and 1995, the first of which deals with the childhood of our narrator, Elly Portman, spent in Essex and Cornwall and the latter concerns events in Elly’s life as an adult, mostly in London and New York.  Family relationships are a strong focus for the author, especially the bond between Elly and her older brother, Joe who is at pains to “fit in” with his peers.  The Portmans are not exactly your typical middle-class family as is clearly demonstrated when they embark on their Cornish adventure, opening a rather unconventional B+B which attracts some idiosyncratic characters.  Moving to Cornwall means an end to Elly’s close relationship with her best friend Jenny Penny but this bond is renewed in the second half of the book.

    You’ve probably gathered by now that this is a very “busy” novel, filled to the brim with big themes such as love in its many shapes and forms, bereavement, family relationships and identity.   It’s a credit to Sarah Winman’s writing that the story remains fluid, whimsical and almost magical even when exploring the darker side of humanity.  Yes, the characters are quirky but they are fully rounded, believable and extremely engaging.   There are moments of wonderful comedy, especially the Jubilee Street Party and the school nativity play, but these are balanced by bleaker episodes such as those dealing with domestic and sexual abuse and the aftermath of 9/11.

    From the opening lines, you are drawn into Elly’s world and you’re immersed in the ebb and flow of  family life.  When God Was A Rabbit is an excellent first novel and one which will hopefully resonate with many readers.

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    1. SazzyMCH says:

      Sounds wonderful – and I too would have been drawn in by the title!

    2. admin says:

      If you like quirky novels and don’t mind suspending your disbelief every once and a while, you’ll love it Sarah. :-)

    3. I’m pleased that you enjoyed this one too! It was totally mad with the amount of things going on, but somehow she made it work. I look forward to seeing what she comes up with next!

    4. admin says:

      Jackie, I read a very interesting article about the author in Waterstone’s Books Quarterly. It took her five years to write this novel. She had written a novel prior to this, very different in style, but it wasn’t picked up by publishers. She thinks her next novel will be a return to the style of this first novel, “something small, claustraphobic, quieter” – sounds very different from the exhuberance of Rabbit but I will certainly look out for it.

    5. Joanne says:

      I haven’t heard of this one before but it sounds great. I’ll put it on my TBR list.

    6. Jessica says:

      ok must order this. I have to admit that the silly title put me off (I hate quirky titles) but it seems to be one worth reading.

    7. admin says:

      Joanne, thank you for commenting, hope you enjoy it.

      Jessica, I hope your dislike of quirky titles doesn’t extend to quirky characters as you may be disappointed.

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