When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman
A proof copy of this book has languished on my shelves since its publication in 2011. I generally prefer not to read books that are getting all the hype during the hype, so, during the final days of my TBR pledge for this year, it was finally time to read it, and I’m pleased to say I enjoyed it a lot.
But, and there is a but … In common with many debut novels, it felt like the author was just overflowing with ideas and had to cram them all into this book so they were used and didn’t disappear into the ether.
When God Was a Rabbit is the story of Elly and cover her entire life so far from 1968 to recent years. Elly narrates her story:
I decided to enter this world just as my mother got off the bus after an unproductive shopping trip to Ilford. She’d gone to chance a pair of trousers and distracted by my shifting position found it impossible to choose between patched denims or velvet flares, and fearful that my place of birth would be a department store, she made a staggered journey back to the safe confines of her postcode where her waters broke just as the heavens opened. And during the seventy yard walk back down to our house, her amniotic fluid mixed with the December rain and spiralled down the gutter until the cycle of life was momentously and, one might say, poetically mingled.
We are introduced to Elly’s family – her mother and father and brother Joe, who was five years older than her and, of course, her pet rabbit whom she called ‘God’. We meet her neighbours including Mr Golan, about whom a rather unwholesome mystery will linger throughout the story. We also meet Jenny Penny, Elly’s best friend, who will come to play a major part in the older Elly’s life after disappearing for the middle of the book.
During this period Elly’s family relocate to Cornwall after a win on the football pools. They open a B&B which becomes home to a collection of oddballs – a loveable old chap, Arthur; his friend Ginger – an ageing chanteuse with a good Shirley Bassey impression; and Alfie – an ex-con who becomes their driver.
It’s an idyllic place to come of age, but everyone grows up and goes out into the world. First Joe, whose heart is broken by his first love Charlie, and then Elly, who finds it hard to settle at anything; life for Elly is full of ups and downs.
I enjoyed Winman’s writing which, section by section, matches Elly’s moods, going from the childlike questioning and naturally funny to practical, restless, melancholy, fretful and just now and then joyful or triumphant. I particularly enjoyed all the characters of her family friends and her big brother – theirs is such a strong bond.
Winman has managed to fill Elly’s first decades with so much life and love in all its forms, one wonders what this girl did next. Elly’s story has the feel of book that wants to be a family saga, but falls a little short of being the kind of epic that it would like to be. However, I do hope that Winman didn’t exhaust all her ideas in this debut novel, as I’m looking forward to more – this was an easy and enjoyable read.
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My review copy came via Amazon Vine. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman. Headline review paperback, 352 pages.