June Book Club – “When God was a Rabbit” by Sarah Winman

Last night, the store’s book club met to discuss Sarah Winman’s When God was a Rabbit and it was interesting to find that the book was one that some loved, most enjoyed, but two really didn’t like it. The  publisher describes When God was a Rabbit as “a mesmerising portrait of childhood and growing up: the loss of innocence, eccentricity and familial bonds.  Stripped down to its bare bones, it’s the story of the unbreakable bond between a brother and sister”.  However, for more information you might like to watch this youtube video featuring an interview with the author.
I think we all agreed that there were parts that we thought were beautifully written and as a debut novel the author showed great potential.  One of the interesting aspects of the novel was the number of gay characters although this was not a theme of the novel as being gay didn’t change the way they interacted with the other characters – they were just friends and family. I found this quite refreshing and I really appreciated the normality of it.
Surprising for me, was the reaction to the main character Elly.  Some liked her a lot, while a couple found her not very believable and considered that she narrated the story in language that a young child wouldn’t use, or that the humorous events described were a little contrived.  Having three children myself, I could imagine some of the funny events happening – the scene of the nativity play as Elly takes her revenge at being given the minor part of the innkeeper, and the Jubilee street party with Elly and Jenny singing Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody (complete with “fig roll” instead of Figaro) as Jenny’s mother is having words with someone trying to drive their car through the street baracade.  The latter made me think of evenings with the Playstation Singstar game as we tried to ad lib to the words of a favourite song.
Some felt that Elly lacked substance as a character, and that while her close relationship with her brother was a highlight when she was a child, it became a problem in the second half of the book when she was an adult.  I liked the author’s explanation in the youtube video that sometimes such a close relationship in childhood can become unhealthy in adulthood and considering that Ellie was home schooled, her brother at boarding school and closest friend left behind when they moved to the country, I can understand her reticence to forming close relationships in adulthood.  The other characters were generally thought of as quirky, with mention by the book club members of how they warmed to some of the minor characters – particularly Jenny Penny and Elly’s father.
I really enjoyed this book and thought it promoted a lot of good discussion on families and social norms.  You might like to try it with your book club.
Our July book club book is The Help by Kathryn Stockett, and I am looking forward to the discussion of this as it has been a favourite with customers of the store.  Let me know your thoughts if you have read it.