When God Was A Rabbit by Sarah Winman
When God Was A Rabbit by Sarah Winman When God Was A Rabbit by Sarah Winman is a novel recommended to me by a customer last summer but it was not until another customer told me that her book club considered it to be “the best book they’d ever done” that I thought it was time I read it for myself.
This book starts off with an appealing character and a family situation that reminded me of books by Kate Atkinson and Galaxy Craze – a sort of eccentric, almost smart-alecky style, that might annoy but does not.
Eleanor Maude, born in 1968, is our heroine. An intelligent and inquisitive little girl, she has a brother, Joe, who is 5 years her senior and parents Kate and Alfie. Her brother is, from the beginning, her protector and the one who loves her best – he is her support no matter where she is - he is her place of safety.
Elly’s first friend is an elderly neighbor who welcomes her into the home he shares with his sister, but also shares with her a darkness. A darkness that is more than a child of her age should know, one that will haunt her forever. Her world is brightened though when another child, Jenny Penny, moves in nearby and they become best friends.
I felt nostalgic for my own childhood – a more innocent time that really was not so innocent, but we didn’t realize that at the time. Our parents led their own lives and children were really left to run wild – as long as we appeared for meals and went to school as expected we weren’t paid much attention.
The family moves to Cornwall, leaving London and Jenny Penny behind, when Elly is ten years old. We can remember ourselves being that age, and how you could be sad and excited all at the same time. Elly is a child with a raw curiosity – and an ability to observe with a keen awareness the world around her – even if misunderstood. Through the eyes of a child it is all so black and white. We follow Elly and Joe, now a teenager about to go off to University. We share Joe’s last summer at home, one they spend on the water, idyllic long summer days of discovery.
This is a difficult novel to write about because I do not want to take away from the pleasure you will have reading When God Was A Rabbit by revealing too many of the events that will take place as the story progresses. Part of the beauty of this book is the surprising twists and turns that occur as Elly grows first from a child to a teenager, and then a young adult, and finally well into her adult years. There are touchstones in time, the day that John Lennon is shot, December 1980, the death of Princess Diana, 1997.
As much as I was enjoying the story and the writing, by the middle of the book I could not yet see what might be so exceptional about it. Although it was definitely holding my interest this novel seemed an almost simple story about a girl growing up in slightly unusual circumstances. I loved the girl and how she told her story – but exceptional? I wasn’t so sure – until the last third of the novel - when the whole thing comes together. As this wonderful book concludes the lives of all of the characters, which have been developed into people we care about, are affected by a tragedy that may leave them all bereft.