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When God was a Rabbit Hardcover – 3 Mar 2011

3.8 out of 5 stars 615 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Headline Review; First Edition edition (3 Mar. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0755379284
  • ISBN-13: 978-0755379286
  • Product Dimensions: 13.8 x 22.3 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (615 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 145,245 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


'Gloriously offbeat... Winman's narrative voice is beautifully true, with a child's unsentimental clarity. A superb debut' (The Times)

'Beguiling... you can't quite get the voice out of your head' (Daily Mail)

'Captivating... rendered with an appealing frankness, precision and emotional acuity' (Observer)

'Thronging with incident, wonder and outré language... sharply funny, whimsical and innovative' (The Guardian) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.


'At times laugh-out-loud funny, at others gut-wrenchingly sad, the book is peppered with unique and complex characters who are so original, well-observed and believable that you'll be completely absorbed into their world'--Easy Living

‘It perfectly captures the hazy, magical nature of youth and all its mysteries, against a backdrop of real-life events'--Elle

'A story of siblings, friendship, secrets and love, told with sadness and humour'--Marie Claire

'A genuinely captivating read'--Glamour

'Mesmerising'--Good Housekeeping

‘In the way that David Nicholls' ONE DAY follows two people through their lives, this traces a family story over four decades in the most unexpected way'--Red Magazine

'Exciting debut...a fabulously quirky novel'--Woman & Home

‘It's rare to find a novel you're recommending to friends, family and colleagues by page 60 but When God Was A Rabbit is just that kind of book... it's funny (embarrassingly so on public transport), recognizably true and heart-breaking in equal measure... A truly great book to lose yourself in; prepare to bore everyone else around you by telling them just how much they need to read it'--Stylist

'Winman's narrative voice is beautifully true, with a child's unsentimental clarity. A superb debut'--The Times

'I think what I liked most about this novel is that it was a rollicking family story - in which we get to know a fairly large cast of eccentric characters and follow them through some tricky decades. What was extra appealing to me was that the years covered by this debut novel by Sarah Winman are those--almost exactly--of my own life'--Paul Magrs

‘When I got to the end I had to immediately contact a couple of other people who had also been given proof copies, just so I could talk about it. What I particularly liked was the possibility of interpretation of events. Winman reels you in to her world and makes you work for resolution. What she does not do is manipulate you or lay it all out on a plate'

‘There are books that tug on the heartstrings, and then there are full-on tractor pulls. When God Was a Rabbit falls into the latter category...[Winman's] prose also has an elegiac, simple beauty, which she uses to nimbly guide her characters through 30-odd eventful years of history...Winman really proves herself capable of making camp inside our tear ducts--and of, one hopes, writing other novels in the future'--Globe and Mail (Toronto)

‘Savour the fragile beauty of the writing. Another Mark Haddon in the making? We reckon so'--Irish Times

‘Gloriously offbeat... Winman's narrative voice is beautifully true, with a child's unsentimental clarity. A superb debut'--The Times

‘Winman pulls a good number of rabbits from her hat in a picaresque coming-of-age tale...[An] affecting and original debut--Library Journal

‘A heartbreaking story of the secrets and hopes of a sister and brother who share an unshakable bond. Winman shows impressive range and vision'--Publishers Weekly

‘Winman's fiction debut, spanning the late 1960s and early 2000s, boasts one of the more endearingly unconventional families in a while... [Winman's] quirky voice maintains its energy; even at her most precocious, Elly never wears out her welcome'--Kirkus

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
A very unusual book, told from the perspective of a young, then older girl / woman as she moves through her life. As the book states, though it is written very much like an autobiographical account, it really only focuses on the key moments of her life - the moments that hold the most impact, the most important or pivotal moments. For that reason, one could easily be forgiven for thinking it a more sensationalised life story - but it really isn't. Take your own life as an example, think of the biggest and most influential moments of your life - be they positive or negative, if you put them into a story, but omitted most of what was in between each event, you'd probably have quite a sensational story of your own!

This story focuses on the key moments from the life of Eleanor Maud, a young girl from a nice, loving family. Her parents love her and she has a very close relationship with her older brother Joe. Despite coming from a loving and protective home, Ellie still sees the ugly side of life, her parents placing trust where it doesn't belong, or brushes with death of family / friends. However the biggest exposure to the darker side of life for Ellie is when she meets Jenny Penny. Jenny is a girl of roughly the same age but who doesn't come from a loving or responsible home. Jenny struggles with life and though she never really envies Ellie and her family, she longs to be a part of it. Ellie's realisation that not all families are the same, and not everyone is as lucky as her is a key theme throughout the book. Even later in the book when she is older, this idea that, through all life has thrown at her, she should still feel fortunate really holds true.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Firstly, let me say that I did enjoy this book, and I realise I'm in the minority in not thinking it is amazing. So, fully anticipating a lynching, I will list what I thought was wrong with it:

- Simply far too much happens. It seems as if the author has taken everything she has ever thought about and splurged it on the page. She touches on a wide range of topics, each one of which could occupy a whole book by itself, but she barely skims them. This is not only overwhelming to the reader, but it serves to trivialise these important issues. There also doesn't appear to be any uniting theme. There is an element of 'and then this happened, and then this happened' and the reader is left wondering why.
- I couldn't identify with the main character, who appeared to be a wry observer who was unaffected by the events in her life. I think this would have worked better told in the third person, as we never really get under the skin of the narrator.
- The narrative is all over the place, appearing disjointed and unedited - something which really isn't helped by the gap between each paragraph, which gives the impression of a change in scene/time and causes the reader to readjust every time it happens.

So onto the good stuff. Firstly, the book was extremely funny, in a very subtle way. Several times I laughed out loud and I applaud the author for this: genuinely funny writing is hard to come by. Secondly, the writing and the descriptions are very beautiful, and some of the similes are spot on and breathtaking. These two things alone deserve three stars, and I was so impressed with them I would like to give the book more. However, a beautiful style and impeccable comic timing do not, unfortunately, make up for unlikeable characters, disjointed story telling and a lack of unity. Sorry, guys.
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By Lovely Treez TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 25 Mar. 2011
Format: 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.
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