Phil: If you want shelf appeal, your book needs a great title. “When God was a Rabbit” by Sarah Winman certainly has that. Who can look at it in the bookshop and not be intrigued?
The story revolves around Eleanor Maud who we first encounter as a young child and then follow through her life, or at least big chunks of it with a gap in the middle. Elly is a precocious narrator, quoting Nietzsche at age 7. We progress through various episodes in her life which I think are supposed to form some sort of cohesive whole. Trouble is, I’ve read the book and still don’t know what was going on.
Part 1 is quite pleasantly written. There are a few never explained anomalies such as her best friend pulling a 50p coin from the future from her arm or a hint of child abuse, but generally I followed the story of her family moving to Cornwall to set up a guest house courtesy of a football pools win. God in this instance really is a rabbit – specifically Elly’s pet.
It’s a nice read. I could suspend disbelief to handle the characters, despite several who seem to make little sense such as the gay film star aunt who is apparently always nipping off to star in some epic but doesn’t seem to be famous. Elly’s brother is gay (as is pretty much everyone else it seems), and every time he has a shag, his sister seems to catch him in the act. No wonder he’s a bit messed up in part 2.
And part 2 is more of a problem. We find Elly now a journalist but the sort of writer who flies around the world while not actually doing anything productive. She has a flat in London but often nips over to see her sibling in New York. Apparently you can fund this on a weekly newspaper column.
By the time the September 11 attacks were shoehorned in to the narrative, I was starting to lose patience. There was plot that didn’t fit the story and if I’m feeling unkind, could have been dropped in at the request of an editor demanding a longer page count. I imagine a wall full of Post-It notes with random sensational scenes (child dressed as baby Jesus killed in the nativity play?) on but no-one bothering to suggest picking the best and then linking them together. Instead, everything is crammed into the pages, everything except a plot.
I think we are supposed to travel through the series of only lightly constructed vignettes and find something profound about childhood and growing up, friendships and families, triumph and tragedy and everything in between. But I only know this because it’s written on the back of the cover. Mind you, “Includes extra material for reading groups” is also on the cover and that’s not in the copy I read.
What’s weird is that while I didn’t really like this book, I quite enjoyed reading it. Maybe that’s enough for the literary reviewers, or maybe they were dazzled by the authors work as an actress (2 years in Holby City! 3 years in The Bill!) but there are plenty of good reviews out there and the book has received 4 awards including the Newton First Book Award and Writer of the Year in 2011. Best of all, Richard & Judy picked it as one for their summer book club – a guarantee of bucket loads of sales.
Presumably I’m missing something very profound, but I would have liked an explanation of that 50p.