From the very first page of Sarah Winman’s ‘When God Was a Rabbit’ I was hooked, finally I thought, here is a book that encapsulates all that I love in a novel. And yet if you were to ask me what it is that I loved so much about this book I couldn’t pin down one thing alone. The book is not spectacular for one particular reason over another it’s simply an amalgamation of a writing style that is funny but thought provoking, a prose that’s poignant but not excessively heavy with vapid literary techniques. And characters that jump from the page and come to life with vivid brilliance.
The novel is split in two parts, the first being Elly’s childhood, her special and intense relationship with her brother, the meeting of her dearest and most peculiar friend Jenny Penny, and the lives of her eccentric family. And off course her beloved pet rabbit whom she names God. Winman seems to leave no ground uncovered in charting all of the events of Elly’s life from the predictable but endearing to the extraordinary and shocking.
The novel then quite abruptly but aptly zooms forward to when Elly has grown up and is working and living as a writer in London. She and Jenny Penny have lost touch, her brother is a high flying banker in New York, and her family and their unconventional entourage still live in their home run B&B. Yet it is clear that Elly is not fully satisfied with her life and is held back by the incidents of the past. In particular her friendship with Jenny Penny which ended so suddenly.
The tone in the second half is notably more somber peppered with less humor and more adult reality. But it is in the second half of the book that Winman demonstrates the consequences of our childhood upon our futures and how some events mark and shapes us without us ever realizing it. The book is ultimately a very real and candid portrayal of families, friendships, love and life.
But enough of my thoughts, here’s what our book group made of the book.
Book Groups reaction…Warning potential plot spoilers….
Generally speaking the book was well received by my book group. Most of us loved it although Holly did report slight disappointment towards the ending. Ijeoma devoured the book and was proclaiming her love for it long before many of us had even started it. Some weren’t so keen but this only created more diverse opinions.
Sammy Dee said that Elly and Jenny’s friendship resonated with her own and brought back long forgotten memories of her best friends and the experiences they built together.
Some like I said, felt the ending was too weak and ended without a strong resolve.I struggled a little with the transition of Jenny Penny from a naive and charming child to a grown woman imprisoned for murder, wise beyond her years and scared by her sad past. It’s not that I didn’t find her imprisonment interesting, on the contrary it was thrilling, yet she changed so deeply that I often felt that her adult self was like a stranger to me. I longed to know more intimate and telling details about her intermittent years.
Some people struggled with the concept of the family suddenly inheriting so much money and adapting from a normal everyday family to a middle class bourgeois one. Ijeoma pointed out that we never learn how much money the win? It was also noted that Jenny Penny never once appears jealous or resentful of the way her best friend suddenly becomes ridiculously rich.
But overall this book is a nice easy read which I’m not afraid to say I sometimes really need. And yet despite being easy to digest it’s cleverly written, contains great insight and is deeply moving. This was perfect for me and I only wish there were more books like this that deliver as much punch whilst being so readable and absorbing.
Has anyone else read this book? What do you think if you have?