I have a sizable pile of books which, for no explicable reason, slip down my ‘To Be Read’ pile where they rest in fear of never being opened. I review recent publications on these pages hoping to share my love of the new reads on offer. But what of the books I’ve missed first time around which are still widely available? I’ve found them some space here. It seems the least I can do after ignoring them for so long.
When God Was A Rabbit by Sarah Winman.
It’s a personal thing but I’m not keen on stories where animals take centre stage. However, When God Was A Rabbit was so widely recommended to me that I had to look beyond the title. The novel does indeed feature a rabbit called God but only in its role of support for a lonesome child who doesn’t yet understand her individuality, the quirkiness of her family, nor the wrongs which have been done to her.
Through Elly’s refreshingly open and liberal minded eyes, we see a life observed which would not tick all the boxes in the manual for the perfect upbringing. But the real warmth of the story is in that which binds all these eccentric characters together: love. This is a close ‘family’ of nuclear and non-nuclear members. When fate deals them an ugly hand, we constantly see the family forge through to the other side. And thus it seems entirely understandable that sole childhood friend, Jenny Penny, should want nothing more in the world than to leave her own family and come and live with them.
Elly is the same age as I am and I enjoyed the nostalgic romp through her childhood in the seventies, through the nineties and into the early millennium and winced as I read of the world’s atrocities I remember, written with such sensitivity and intimacy.
The characters who make up When God Was A Rabbit are so loveable – from big brother Joe, so wise and protective yet individual, to Elly’s wry father, troubled and living in fear of his past, to the bi-sexual mother, to the unfortunate resident of Her Majesty’s Prison Service – all are so touchingly real and vulnerable. This is a book about relationships sometimes working well, sometimes just surviving. I was sad to finish this short novel. One to read If you haven’t already.
When God Was A Rabbit by Sarah Winman. Published by Headline Review in 2011. RRP £8.99, paperback. Also available as an eBook.
Read Jackie’s full list of book reviews in September’s issue of Chase!