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When God Was a Rabbit: A Novel Hardcover – May 10, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
Winman debuts with a heartbreaking story of the secrets and hopes of a sister and brother who share an unshakable bond. Elly and her older brother, Joe, appear to be just like all the other kids in mid-1970s Essex, U.K., but, as is often the case, shocking secrets lurk below the surface for the siblings and Elly's best friend, Jenny Penny—one has been sexually abused, another has an alcoholic and promiscuous mother, another is homosexual—and the weight of bearing each other's traumas erupts in hard to watch ways. As the years go on, each moves forward; for Elly and Joe, this is more easily accomplished, as their family moves away from Essex and Joe's secret is brought to light, relief Elly doesn't receive until much later. As the story winds through time and across the Atlantic, the trio and their families are rocked by 9/11, leading to a final twist that strains belief before settling into acceptable inevitability. Winman shows impressive range and vision in breaking out of the muted coming-of-age mold, and the narrative's intensity will appeal to readers who like a little gloom. (May)
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“No bare-bones plot summary can do justice to this wonderfully wise and compellingly readable tale of love and friendship in all their forms, of family uncircumscribed by biological bonds, and of loss worse than death. A remarkable first novel, worth savoring.” ―Booklist (starred review)
“Winman's debut boasts one of the more endearingly unconventional families in a while. A freshly rendered tale of growing up and living in the world by a late-starting author with a bright future.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“Affecting and original.” ―Library Journal
“Winman shows impressive range and vision in breaking out of the muted coming-of-age mold, and the narrative's intensity will appeal to readers who like a little gloom.” ―Publishers Weekly
“Sarah Winman has written this book in the exact way events in a childhood--and a life--accrue, and I've never seen anyone able to do that so well. Brilliant, funny, and moving, When God Was a Rabbit is a captivating novel!” ―Robb Forman Dew, author of Being Polite to Hitler
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Top Customer Reviews
Imagine my enthusiasm, then, when our next book club book was announced as being When God was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman, which turned out to have any number of those trite kind of descriptions in its back cover blurb. I began reading the book accompanied by much mental eye rolling and thoughts of "I'll just quickly skim read through to get it over and done with". Having finished the book, I thought I'd review it for you. Believe it or not, it was much better than I feared - clearly shows how much I know! Here are my thoughts.
First off, some advice: do not, for the love of God, read this book on public transport. I made the mistake of starting to read the book while I was on the tram. This proved unfortunate, as I got to the nativity scene and immediately started laughing hysterically. And I mean in a BAHAH HA HA HA-loud-laughing-with-tears-pouring-down-face kind of way. In fact, I laughed so hard that I choked on my saliva (what can I say, I'm all class). People on the tram were not impressed and started to give me sideways glances and edge surreptitiously away.
The first half of the book is set in the late 60's and the 70's, where the narrator, Elly, and her brother, Joe, are kids growing up in England. Although some of the themes in the first half are dark, it is actually much lighter and funnier than the second half of the book, which takes place when Elly and Joe have grown up. Some of the second half is set in and around the events of 9/11, and it is hard not to feel emotional when the book revisits the pain and suffering of so many people and their families at this time. That's not to say that the second half of the book does not have its funny moments - it's just that there are less of them and they are less carefree. One could draw parallels between the innocence and optimism of childhood giving way to the more jaded cynicism of being an adult. But since I am not a literary tosser, I will restrain myself...
When God was a Rabbit is populated by a cast of eccentric and, for the most part, very likeable characters. There is Elly, the precocious narrator, who gives this novel its charmingly matter-of-fact voice. There is also Elly's older brother, Joe, who gives Elly a rabbit called God and the book its title. Not to mention Elly's rather strange best friend Jenny Penny with unmanageable hair, a lesbian actress aunt, and Joe and Elly's loving-but-eccentric parents who win money and open a B&B in Cornwall, paving the way for a raft of equally eccentric and likeable characters to appear.
Most of the reviews I found of When God was a Rabbit quoted the back cover of the book which says - rather cheesily -"This is a book about love in all its forms". I don't agree. This book is about family and the ties that bind (sorry, breaking all my own rules about trite descriptions now!!). And it is also about love. It is a darkly comedic novel that touches on some pretty serious topics along the way, but it's generally a light touch.
And speaking of topics, the book manages to cover a wide range including, among other things: incest, first gay love, suicide, religion, unplanned pregnancy (The Virgin Mary's included), terrorism, kidnapping and mentally disturbed neighbours - so you see, it has something for everyone. There are one or two reasonably graphically depicted sex scenes. If you are highly conservative and easily offended, stay away - this is probably not the book for you.
I found this book original, quirky, hilarious, sad and beautifully written, without being overly melodramatic or unduly self-indulgent. If you appreciate good writing, original characters and you are not a fundamentalist who's had a sense of humour-ectomy, then read this book and enjoy it for everything that it is - perfect and imperfect. And finally, some advice: if reading this book on public transport, beware of alarming fellow passengers with unseemly displays of laughter. That's all.
I really enjoyed this book and became totally immersed in it. Take the journey. It's worth it.
Quirky, funny, and bittersweet, author Sarah Winman puts into words what many of us have thought at one time or another when dealing with others and life's happy and unhappy surprises. The book is written in two different styles. The first half of the book is hilarious, written with the extreme detail of a child's discovery of the world, where their world is small and everything is noticeable and in sharp focus. (At times, it is laugh out loud funny - the type of book where you cannot contain your delight at the author's humor) The second half of the book is bittersweet, (though also humorous) and written with a sort of shorthand minimalism; now that Elly is an adult and the world has gotten very large indeed, where life is more fragile and unsure and has fallen into categories and generalizations.
The close relationship between Elly and her brother in the first half of the book holds them together through the tumultuous second half.
It was a very enjoyable read. It touches on many deep themes; trauma, loss, being 'different', love, homosexuality, incest, terrorism, friendship, abuse, murder, & mental illness. Winman's characters (even the ones on the sidelines) are fully fleshed and lovable, and the story never lags.
Thoroughly enjoyed it and couldn't put it down in the end. Evokes lots of emotions and memories.
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