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But there is one question I have never asked myself though : is God a rabbit? But lest that give you the wrong impression of this wonderfully whimsical book, Sarah Winman's debut novel is not an elegy to religion or an old man riding a white horse in the sky and judging us sternly as we lurch through one moral lapse after another. Nah. When God Was A Rabbit is a coming-of-age adult memoir that puts together the fabric of most lives - love, friendship and family. Violence, the author says in an afterword to the novel, runs through the book. I disagree. Violence is a thin paste that glues that plot of the book. It is relationships - these messy, convoluted, often cathartic connections we form and have with other people that gives us all the carrots from this book.
This is the blurb on the back of the book:
This is a book about a brother and a sister. It’s a book about childhood and growing up, friendships and families, triumph and tragedy and everything in between. More than anything, it’s a book about love in all its forms.
When God Was A Rabbit doesn't start easily though. But I discovered a little known reservoir of patience I possessed, and I stuck through a bizarre beginning when Eleanor Maud is a precocious child of 7, spouting Nietzsche, and forms an indelible friendship with Jenny Penny. I say I struggled through this because the author has a strange habit of half-describing events, leaving them shrouding in the mist of ambiguity and leaving the reader to figure out the rest. The Golan episode for instance. You know there is something afoot, but what? Break it out to dumb readers like me, please! It's a tendency that reveals itself irritatingly through the book - no incidents are described in completion - hazy memories we play around with all right, but there are times you demand the ice cream without the cone, without that fluff and all that razzmatazz. It's isn't to say that the book isn't beautiful because it is.
The magical realism that Winman weaves into the novel requires a certain suspension of disbelief, and I do it willingly. A talking rabbit? Why not? I tell myself. But to cut quick to the plot - follow Elly around as she grows up in Cornwall, with a dear family that is eccentric and lovable - her father's sister, Nancy has an enduring crush on her mother, and one of the most hilarious moments in the book to me was when Nancy consummates a life-long passion with a kiss to Elly's mother, and her Dad? His reaction : Well, good that we have finally got that out of the way! Then there is the love of Elly's life - her brother Joe, who nurses a deep hurt from a teenage love affair with Charlie gone horribly wrong - and assorted characters like Arthur who believes that his life will only be ended when a coconut falls on his head. Funny? Yes. It was. Adorable? Yes indeed. Quirky? I love quirkiness!
There is plenty to find fault with in this book, but for once, I chose not to do so because the story was genuinely affecting. Aren't there so many mistakes we commit in life? The dark recesses of a buried past we never want to pry into? And what if there is a chance to move beyond, and learn that perhaps the future may not be buried as well? When God Was A Rabbit offers that kind of hope, and however much I hate hope, there are times when it serves its purpose well.
Verdict : A funny quirky and poignant read. Stick with it in the beginning and you will be rewarded.
Below, trailer for the book: