When Eleanor Maud’s brother Joe gave her a rabbit, she wanted to call it Eleanor Maud. Joe told her she couldn’t do that, because it was a boy, so they called it God instead.
With an attention grabbing title, and cover, Sarah Winman’s debut When God Was A Rabbit wasn’t quite the light, whimsical novel I expected. Whimsical, yes, light, not so much. The author describes this book as a love story between a brother and sister which is, surprise!, exactly what it is. Told from the perspective of Elly, her family The Maud’s are to put it lightly, a bit odd. But they grow on you throughout as you get glimpses of who they are from the stories Elly tells. Part One is through the innocent, unfiltered eyes and mind of a child. Part Two is Eleanor as a young woman. The book is in past tense resulting in the almost nostalgic feeling of it being told with the wisdom of someone who already knows what happens. Personally I found the older Eleanor much more likeable, I enjoyed her sense of humour, though I think this book will be interpreted in many different ways by different people. I got shades of Sonya Hartnett’s Butterfly in the Part One, a book I had a bit of trouble with, I definitely enjoyed this book much more. Covering everything from terrorism including September 11, child abuse, terminal illness and sexuality this books takes you through a LOT, but doesn’t feel rushed or like its trying to hard.
The ties between Joe and Elly are what keeps this book moving forward, but other fascinating characters abound. Joe is such a vital character in the book, he and Elly are almost like a part of one another. I can’t tell you about the best part without ruining it, so I’ll just say this book just keeps gets better and better. Many captivating characters contribute a lot, even though some are absent for large parts of it, which is a testament to Winman’s characters and style. From breathtakingly sad to laugh-out-loud funny* this book really has it all. Paperback, $30.
*One of my favourite passages;
‘When we left the house both my mother and father had shed a tear as their beloved son walked out into the cold night air dressed as a daughter, unsure as to what he might return as. That, my father would later say, was one of the unexpected gifts of parenthood.”