I simply adore this book. It appeared as if by magic on my shelf and introduced me to a wonderful, if strange, family and their eventful lives. The writing is delightful, humorous and almost whimsical, but there is a darkness running through the book, allowing the reader to truly feel invested in the characters and their lives.
Starting in Essex in the early 1970’s, we meet narrator Elly as a young child. Her family comes with baggage in the form of dysfunctional parents and a misfit older brother. When a disturbing incident occurs, it’s Elly’s brother Joe that looks out for her. He buys her a pet rabbit which they decide to name ‘God’, much to the disapproval of Elly’s school teacher.
While Elly is still quite young, the family decide to move to Cornwall and set up a Bed and Breakfast, with the hope of meeting interesting people and forming new friendships. And indeed, they do seem to attract a variety of fantastic friends, making up a brilliantly bizarre cast of characters. My favourites include Elly’s school friend Jenny Penny and her mother who make Elly’s family seem almost normal, and glamorous Aunt Nancy, a lesbian film star who brings a bit of sparkle to every page she appears in.
The main interest for me always came back to the interactions between the siblings. My relationship with my older brother is an important one to me, which might be why I appreciate Elly and Joe’s. Sarah Winman paints a realistic picture of sibling affection with all it’s laughter, love and, of course, arguments.
I’ve found it hard to explain When God Was a Rabbit, but perhaps that’s a good thing. I came to this book knowing nothing about it, and it was a lovely surprise. Do give it a try if you are looking for something very heartwarming, slightly heartbreaking and delightfully quirky.