Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Book Review: When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman

Hey everyone! I recently finished When God Was a Rabbit and I really enjoyed it. It was a pretty unusual read so I thought you guys would like to know my thoughts about it. Here we go!


Cover and description from Goodreads

This is a book about a brother and a sister. It's a book about secrets and starting over, friendship and family, triumph and tragedy, and everything in between. More than anything, it's a book about love in all its forms.

In a remarkably honest and confident voice, Sarah Winman has written the story of a memorable young heroine, Elly, and her loss of innocence- a magical portrait of growing up and the pull and power of family ties. From Essex and Cornwall to the streets of New York, from 1968 to the events of 9/11, When God Was a Rabbit follows the evolving bond of love and secrets between Elly and her brother Joe, and her increasing concern for an unusual best friend, Jenny Penny, who has secrets of her own. With its wit and humor, engaging characters whose eccentricities are adroitly and sometimes darkly drawn, and its themes of memory and identity, When God Was a Rabbit is a love letter to true friendship and fraternal love.

What's the deal?

When God Was a Rabbit is a complex, thought-provoking book about friendship and family, and especially the relationship between Elly and her elder brother Joe. The book begins in 1968 at Elly's birth. Almost immediately, Joe is seen as a protector and comforter, the most important and constant thing in Elly's life. We then follow the siblings through the years - Elly gets a rabbit, whom Joe names God, she makes a new friend (Jenny Penny), she learns a shocking secret about Joe that must not be told. But through thick and thin Elly and Joe stick together. Even other friendships, illicit relationships and scandalous secrets don't get between them. The book also follows them both through adolescence in a tranquil, idyllic, house right next to the sea, and into adulthood, when Elly is cooped up in a tiny flat and Joe has fled to New York to escape himself. In spirit at least, Elly manages to escape with him. Life continues to throw them curve-balls however, and one of the most terrible tragedies of the modern world threatens their bond, happiness, and even existence.

How does it work?

When God Was a Rabbit is written in first person narrative - the narrator is the main protagonist, Elly. At times, the narrative can be very disjointed, but it's fast paced and interesting throughout. There's a pretty heady mix of angst, joy and passion from beginning to end, as well as mystery and suspense. Although Elly (and Joe) are the main characters, the supporting characters all have their own problems and joys too, most notably Aunt Nancy, Jenny Penny, Charlie, Arthur and Ginger. The entire book is from Elly's point of view, but manages to do a pretty good job of telling the other characters' stories too.

Completely Loved:
  • This book has such an interesting concept. I don't think I've read anything that travels to such depths of philosophy and mind without being too heavy or academic. It was funny, heart warming and interesting all the way through.
  • The themes running through this book were beautifully interwoven. As well as the obvious relationship/family/friendship thing going on, there was amazing thoughts of religion and belonging, loss and sacrifice, hope and joy threading through each chapter and scene in a way that is obvious and yet not unbearably so.
Not so much:
  • I felt like some of the themes running through the book were not tied up neatly. A lot was left to speculation, some of it felt too "fantasy" to belong in the real world setting of the book, and in some parts (and I don't know about you but) I just wished things had been explained, or at least tied up a little more thoroughly.
  • Also, in some parts, what was actually happening was quite unclear. This sort of fits in with the style of narration and all that, so didn't feel completely amiss, but at some points I had to go back a few pages, reread some passages and then go "oh right, that's what happened there". 

"I divide my life into two parts. Not really a before and after, more as if they are bookends, holding together flaccid years of empty musings, years of the late adolescence or the twentysomething whose coat of adulthood simply does not fit" - Elly, at the first part of the book.

"My feet felt the earth as fragile as eggshells"

"I stared at her, both attracted and repulsed by the suddenness of her violence, by the calm now sweeping across her face" - Elly, on Jenny Penny.

"It was an exaggerated energy born of the dangerous, an energy that could unexpectedly turn play into war"

"It is the source of art, of beauty, of love, and proffers the ultimate goodness to mankind. That to me is God. That to me is life"

Final Thoughts

I give When God Was a Rabbit 3.5 out of 5. It was a haunting, complex novel that resonates and stays with you long after you finish it. It was, all at once, easy to read and yet full of philosophical meaning. I would definitely recommend this to young adults, teenagers trying to find their way, or anyone who wants their faith in the world to be reaffirmed.

Have you read When God Was a Rabbit? If so, leave a comment telling me if you enjoyed it or not, and why. Maybe this book isn't for everyone, but I definitely think you should give it a chance! I'm sorry I've got a little behind schedule this week, and so my next My Mad Fat Diary re-watch post will be up a little later than planned (probably Friday). See you then!

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