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Love and Loss,
This review is from: When God Was a Rabbit (Hardcover)When God Was A Rabbit is one of Waterstone's Top 11 for 2011 and that recommendation plus its wonderful title attracted me to this very impressive debut novel.
The story is divided into two parts, 1968 and 1995, the first of which deals with the childhood of our narrator, Elly Portman, spent in Essex and Cornwall and the latter concerns events in Elly's life as an adult, mostly in London and New York. Family relationships are a strong focus for the author, especially the bond between Elly and her older brother, Joe who is at pains to "fit in" with his peers. The Portmans are not exactly your typical middle-class family as is clearly demonstrated when they embark on their Cornish adventure, opening a rather unconventional B+B which attracts some idiosyncratic characters. Moving to Cornwall means an end to Elly's close relationship with her best friend Jenny Penny but this bond is renewed in the second half of the book.
You've probably gathered by now that this is a very "busy" novel, filled to the brim with big themes such as love in its many shapes and forms, bereavement, family relationships and identity. It's a credit to Sarah Winman's writing that the story remains fluid, whimsical and almost magical even when exploring the darker side of humanity. Yes, the characters are quirky but they are fully rounded, believable and extremely engaging. There are moments of wonderful comedy, especially the Jubilee Street Party and the school nativity play, but these are balanced by bleaker episodes such as those dealing with domestic and sexual abuse and the aftermath of 9/11.
From the opening lines, you are drawn into Elly's world and you're immersed in the ebb and flow of family life. When God Was A Rabbit is an excellent first novel and one which will hopefully resonate with many readers.