When God Was a Rabbit – Sarah Winman

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When God Was a Rabbit is the story of a brother and sister growing up in England during the 1970s. The family seem to be a magnet for literary themes - with everything from paedophilia, murder and terrorism affecting them. Initially I worried that too much was happening, but I quickly realised that this book isn’t meant to be realistic. The ridiculous number of tragic events meant that it was impossible to take anything seriously and so the mood was far lighter than should have been possible given the amount of suffering taking place.

I found myself laughing as someone was kidnapped and rolling my eyes at the mention of cancer, but I was also moved by many of the events - especially those towards the end of the book. This combination of humour with dark themes is difficult to achieve and I was very impressed.

My father’s Evening News was handed around in a quiet daze. All vital signs were missing and so his Atheist family had agreed to turn off the life support machine.

“Christ that was quick,” said Nancy. “What were they doing? Saving electricity?”

“Not funny Nancy,” said my mother hiding her face. “Not funny at all.”

But even I saw my father laugh and my brother, and Jenny Penny swore that she saw my mother laugh as she looked up from her hot chocolate. She loved moments like that. The inclusiveness of family. I guess because she had none.

I especially loved the beginning of the book - the childhood innocence added to the charm. Naming a pet rabbit “God” is something only a young child can get away with, but I loved the way it allowed for all sorts of profound statements to be sprinkled through the text.

“And so at Christmas, god finally came to live with me.”

I’m sure that some people will find this sort of thing distasteful, but I loved the originality.

The book was easy to read and had a gripping plot. I can see it being a big hit with book clubs as I’m sure it will generate a lot of discussion.

The enormous number of themes in this book should have been a recipe for disaster, but somehow Sarah Winman managed to make it work. Recommended to anyone looking for an entertaining, original book that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

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30 Comments

  1. Laura says:

    OK, that sounds unusual. When you wrote, “The family seem to be a magnet for literary themes” I thought for sure you were going to trash this book. Because you didn’t, I’m quite intrigued!

    1. Jackie says:

      Laura, In the beginning I thought I would be driven mad by the amount of things going on, but I got dragged along by it and ended up completely gripped. It didn’t manage to spread light on any of the issues, but it did a fantastic job of entertaining me. Not sure it is for you (as I know you like quieter books), but I’d be very interested to know your thoughts on it!

  2. Annabel says:

    This is on my pile for next month – looking forward to it even more now.

    1. Jackie says:

      Annabel, I look forward to seeing what you make of it – enjoy :-)

  3. Sounds good! The Slap (Tiolkas) was another book that had a lot of themes (and therefore ideal for book clubs) but there also, you didn’t really notice while you were reading it. Afterwards I thought: did all of that happen in one book?

    That’s good writing, if you don’t notice it, or can accept it in the context of the book.

    I’ve seen the book in the book shop. I don’t buy many at the moment, but that looks a contender.

    1. Jackie says:

      Judith, This book has about 10x more themes than The Slap! I guarantee that you will notice the number in this one. I’ve just re-read the first chapter and discovered that there were about 10 major themes in that chapter alone. I had forgotten about some of them. I even forgot that the girl’s grandparents had been killed in a bus crash (mentioned on p2) and I think that shows the amount going on – it isn’t often you can forget about the death of two important family members.

      I agree that the fact I was able to accept it shows that the writing quality was good. I look forward to seeing what other people make of it in the coming months.

  4. TERESA says:

    I have reserved this at the library, it’s not available yet but they’ve “pre-reserved” it for me – one of the perks of being a regular customer! Can’t wait to get my mitts on it. :-)

    1. Jackie says:

      Teresa, I hope that your library get it in soon. I have pre-reserved a few books in my library before and it takes so long to arrive that I forget all about them – it is then a really nice surprise when you get a message to say they’ve come in. Enjoy :-)

  5. This one sounds interesting to me. The description would make me wary too, but if you’re convinced, I probably will be too! It doesn’t come out in the U.S. for a few more months, but I requested it from the library!

    1. Jackie says:

      Carrie, I didn’t realise that it wasn’t out in the US yet so thanks for letting me know. At least it means you can get at the front of the reservation list :-)

  6. Lucy says:

    I hink you had a pretty similar view on this book to me. I originally thoughts a bit too much was happening but somehow it worked!

    1. Jackie says:

      Lucy, I’ve just gone back and read your review. It does look as though we had similar thoughts. It is nice to know that you liked it despite the madness too :-)

  7. Jo says:

    Just heard her interviewed on Radio 2 with Simon Mayo and I only caught a little bit of it, so this has filled me in on the rest.

    Might give it a go perhaps in the future.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jo, Someone on twitter mentioned the Simon Mayo interview just after it finished. I’ve just discovered it is online (interview starts at 1:04)
      http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00z08z7/Simon_Mayo_Drivetime_07_03_2011/
      *heads off to listen to it*

  8. vivienne says:

    It sounds like a FUN read! Not sure if it is for me. With so many different disasters occuring.

    1. Jackie says:

      vivienne, Don’t worry about the disasters – there is nothing gruesome or disturbing about this book. It is more funny than anything else.

  9. Kathleen says:

    My sense of humor can be a bit dark and twisted at times so this read is appealing to me.

  10. This sounds a bit quirky, but based on you fine review, I’ve wishlisted it:)

  11. Dot says:

    I have this sitting on my shelf, really looking forward to it!

  12. Andi says:

    It seems an odd thematic mix, but I’m glad it worked for you! I see more of these books popping up lately, and I really like them. :D

  13. Jackie says:

    I hope that you all enjoy reading it and look forward to your reviews. :-)

  14. Iris says:

    Oh, I saw this in a bookshop just yesterday and I thought it looked intriguing. Now I may just need to return to the shop t buy it. Except.. I shouldn’t :(

    1. Jackie says:

      *whispers in persuasive way* oooohhh…go on…read it ;-)

  15. Intriguing description – I like the excerpt that you chose especially.

    1. Jackie says:

      Christy, The whole book is very similar to that extract, so if you like that then I’m sure you’ll enjoy the rest of the book. :-) Enjoy.

  16. John Braine says:

    I read this review and bought it straight away. I’m really enjoying every single page. She’s a great writer and I really like her sense of humour. She’s also doing a fantastic job of narrating the audiobook herself.

    1. Jackie says:

      John, That is really good to know. I’ll ensure I recommend the audio if people ask about it :-)

  17. Hugo Boss says:

    I finished this book just now. I borrowed it from the library because I had nothing to do during my day offs. First time I thought this book wasn’t keep me for too long and I would stop reading at the first pages. But I was wrong. I really liked this book and couldn’t stop reading until I finished it. I am not a native speaker though, from time to time I had to reread some parts to get more comprehension. It’s beautiful……

    1. Jackie says:

      Hugo, I’m so pleased to hear that you enjoyed it. I can see how certain sections would be hard for non native speakers, as there are a lot of cultural references and subtle jokes that might be hard to pick up. Glad you appreciated it despite these problems – it is a lovely book :-)

  18. Tortoisebook says:

    Love your review it is so difficult to describe this book and to do it justice. So many people won’t ‘get’ this book but I loved it. But then, like Kathleen’s comment above, I too have a twisted sense of humour and people don’t always get me either!

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