Book Review: When God was a Rabbit – Sarah Winman

The author describes the book as a ‘love story between a brother and sister – a story of how secrets are forged in childhood and are carried through to adulthood. It’s also a book about starting again, or being able to start again.’ She also says it has a theme of violence, but I’ll let you read the book and her authors note at the end, rather than ruin the story for you.

I recently met Sarah Winman at a local independent bookshop in Swindon, called Bert’s Books. Sarah was there to launch her latest book, ‘Still Life’.  Her talk about how she came about to write ‘Still Life’, was fascinating. As a writer myself, it was so interesting hearing about her process. I was encouraged to find that she has to plan the idea through before starting, and then like many writers, once she starts, her characters join in with the writing.  They tend to take you off in the direction they want to go – but she still kept to her overall themes and destination.

The reason I bought this book rather than her latest, I was totally drawn in by the title – and as you’ll see, I wasn’t disappointed.

From the opening, when Elly is born, you know that the story is going to be both funny and entertaining by the style of writing, which is richly imaginative. The story is told from Elly’s point of view and very quickly you’re drawn into her world.

She has a friend with the wonderful name of Jenny Penny whose life is totally different from hers. Elly’s family are slightly eccentric, but there is stability in the sense that the family are all together. Jenny Penny’s mother is flighty, often embarrasses her daughter and Jenny never knows who her mum is going to bring home. Jenny often wants to be at Elly’s house, because in her eyes it is more normal.

The book starts in 1968 and ends in the early 2000’s following the story of each character through happy and sad times, and we know what happens to them by the end of the book, which is very satisfying.

Sarah’s characters are completely real. I loved the descriptions, the dialogue and the depth of the characters of which there are quite a few. As well as Elly and Joe’s parents, there is Nancy, their dad’s sister, also, Charlie and Arthur, the latter being a very interesting character. You feel their emotions, like them, dislike them, get annoyed with them – they come alive on the page.  Even the relationship between Elly and her rabbit is both real and magical at the same time. You can’t help but be drawn into their story.

The friendship between Elly and Jenny Penny is also brilliantly drawn, the strength of their friendship strong – but be ready for some surprises along the way.

This is one of those books that when I stopped reading a chapter, I couldn’t wait to pick the book up again. Also, this is a book that begs to be read and re-read.