Sarah Winman – When God Was A Rabbit

Posted on | August 21, 2011 | 20 Comments

What an amazing name for a book! That was the first thought that came to me when I saw this book at Waterstones. The gist sounded promising enough, and you’ve got to give a book with such a title a chance. And so I did.

The initial chapters are indeed promising. However, as you keep turning the pages, it just keeps going downhill. And then you force yourself to finish it, and are left wondering…. why?!

Or well, that was my experience. The book spans about forty years, from 1968 when Elly (the narrator) was born in Essex to 9/11 and beyond. We meet Elly’s brother, Joe; her parents; her lesbian aunt; Jenny Penny, her best friend and finally, Charlie – Joe’s lover. And so the drama starts.

By the age of ten, Elly’s been sexually abused (or it was so indicated, but never outright said), she’s seen her brother in a gay relationship, her father’s sister talks openly of her sexuality, her father nearing a mental breakdown, moved to Cornwall far away from her best friend, and… well, she’s still perfectly fine with everything and carries on as though everything’s hunky dory.

So many of the themes needed to be explored in greater detail, but… nothing. It was shallow and the characters one-dimensional. Even the brother-sister relationship, which started so encouragingly just… faded into nothing. The rabbit that her brother gifted her on one of her birthdays, and they decided to call god (much to her teacher’s chagrin and horror) was a redeeming part of the book, specially when Elly believed he was anthropomorphic. However, even that storyline just drifted into nothing.

Yet, so many events were covered: the death of Princess Diana, the assassination of Lennon, the assassination of JFK, 9/11, cancer, a friend in prison, a Getty-like kidnapping. So much, and yet so little. So much promise, and yet such little delivery.

I was honestly disappointed after finishing this book. At only 330 odd pages, it’s not really a chunkster or anything, but after about p280, I just couldn’t be bothered anymore. Didn’t care about the characters, didn’t want to care about them either. I forced myself to finish the book, and well… I did.

Have you read this book? Am I judging it way too harshly?


20 Responses to “Sarah Winman – When God Was A Rabbit”

  1. Random Reflections
    August 22nd, 2011 @ 8:31 am

    I have seen this book several times in Waterstones and had wondered about it, but I think your review has taught me that I should wonder no more!

  2. carolinareads
    August 22nd, 2011 @ 11:19 pm

    I hate when a book with great premises ends up being a disappointement.

  3. Nicola
    August 23rd, 2011 @ 12:33 am

    Such a shame when you invest time and energy into a book and it disappoints. Cover is nice!

  4. Amy
    August 23rd, 2011 @ 11:50 am

    I had the same problem! It started off nicely, but then it seemed to go a little downhill. So much happened and it was just all treated in a slightly blase way. It’s a shame really, as I was quite enjoying it until about part way through.

  5. JoAnn
    August 23rd, 2011 @ 2:07 pm

    Oh, so disappointing – especially after such a good beginning. I do love the title though…

  6. Steph
    August 23rd, 2011 @ 5:26 pm

    What a shame! It’s always so terrible when a book begins with such promise only to spiral downward such that you can’t even muster the interest in finishing it (or you force yourself to do so and find it wasn’t worth the effort). I haven’t read this one as it’s not been released in the U.S. but it’s getting tons of buzz here so I feel I will probably check it out to see what all the fuss is about.

  7. Pam
    August 23rd, 2011 @ 9:22 pm

    I COMPLETELY agree Cookie! I was totally grabbed by the title (and the cute cover…yes, I judge books by their covers) Alas I then just got steadily more despondent as the book declined. Once things turn 9/11 I know it’s going pear (sadly a true rule of thumb!)

  8. Aarti
    August 25th, 2011 @ 12:13 am

    Oh, no! You’re right, SUCH a great title, so even more disappointing that this one wasn’t a winner. Bummer.

  9. Mystica
    August 26th, 2011 @ 5:29 am

    I also started reading this book because of the rather whimsical title. Halfway through I realized where this was going – I do not know whether coming from a country where reincarnation is widely believed in, whether this was more “believable” than for others?

  10. Jackie (Farm Lane Books)
    August 27th, 2011 @ 10:39 am

    Normally I’d be agreeing with you – there were far too many things going on in this book,the characters were one dimensional and things were a bit far fetched, but somehow it worked for me. I guess it was so over the top that I couldn’t really take it seriously. I was swept along by the mad story line and found myself laughing out loud on several occasions. Perhaps I was just in the right mood for this bizarre tale.

  11. Sojourner
    August 29th, 2011 @ 6:20 pm

    I thought the book was quite good, yes it started with more promise than it ended with, but i found it endearing and liked the style of writing, yes many things happened but the book did span over a long period of time, and to be fair half of these things have happened to me and I’m only 18. then again maybe that is why I enjoyed the book I saw similarities between myself and the main character, and of course there’s not much detail about sexual abuse, as its one of those things you try to forget and do apart from the sketchy imagery, she was a child and moved on.; I think that’s party the theme of the book, moving on, finding ways to cope or even immersing yourself in experiences and distractions that stop you from falling, from going mad, and you continue.

    That is my my opinion anyway, the book had floors an I would have liked the character of the rabbit ‘God’ to be explored a little more and similar small issues, but when I set out to read a book I don’t expect it to be great, I just expect the author to share something and give to their audience, I believe Sarah Winman did this. A good start I think for a promising writer, a good debut.

  12. Jo
    August 31st, 2011 @ 1:34 am

    I loved the first half of this one. I thought Elly narrating as a child was brilliant, and although over the top, her ‘take is as it comes’ attitude to all the odd stuff happening was just about believable. It wen downhill for me when she grew up, and as you say, the majority of those threads were never followed up. It tok me an effort to red to the end too.

  13. Alast
    September 11th, 2011 @ 11:08 pm

    My experience was quite different. I couldn’t put the book down until I finished it. And although I found the bits that talked about Lady Di, 9/11 and prison visits (essentially part II) somewhat disappointing, I was saddenned that the ride was over when I actually finished the book.
    I found there were quite a few intriguing passages in the book.

  14. Joanna
    September 12th, 2011 @ 2:30 pm

    I bought this based on the great title too but haven’t read it yet. My husband read it though and was disappointed, like you.

  15. anothercookiecrumbles
    September 12th, 2011 @ 9:41 pm

    @Random Reflections : I saw it at Waterstones as well, and the title + the cover were enough to tempt me. It will happen again, but…. so unfortunate.

    @carolinareads : Tell me about it. And this one was actually really promising until it started self-destructing.

    @Nicola : You know what they say about never judging a book by its cover…

    @Amy : Exactly. I mean, take one theme and explore it to its fullest, instead of making the entire book superficial.

    @JoAnn : You and me both :)

    @Steph : I really do hope you get on better with it, and don’t feel the need to throw it hard at someone or something, in the middle of a coffee shop. :) It has potential, but…

    @Pam : On the same page! Cute is actually the apt word for the cover! It is adorable. As is the title. 9/11 books aren’t all bad. For example, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was actually quite good. But here – it just felt so forced and unnecessary.

    @Mystica : I do believe in reincarnation. Well, maybe not reincarnation, but karma, and how your actions in this lifetime can haunt you in subsequent ones. Thing is, if that had been taken as the theme and explored, then I possibly wouldn’t have gotten so frustrated, but as it stands…

    @Jackie : You are right – parts of the book were hilarious, and I was laughing out loud myself. But aaaargh! I was also losing my patience with it. I mean, great for a debut and all that, but surely the editors and reviewers should’ve tried to make it a book of a little more substance, and a little less over the top and hyperbolic and unbelievable.

    @Sojourn : I’m glad you enjoyed this book, and took more from it than I did. I guess my main gripe was that although a lot happened, all the threads just petered out into nothing. I agree – I would have liked the rabbit-god aspect to be explored further, or maybe a fatter book, which took things a little bit deeper. I don’t know – I really enjoyed the beginning, which is probably why I’m so disappointed. If something starts off terribly, then there really isn’t much expectation, but when things start off with such promise and then it doesn’t meet the expectation, there’s this sense of… frustration. Or, it feels a bit like wasted time. Maybe I am being too harsh, but…

    @Jo: Exactly. Elly as a child was fantastic, and there’s always something so endearing about a child narrator.

    @Alast : Guess that’s the amazing thing about books – how each one takes away something completely different from it. Am glad you enjoyed it, and you are right – there’s a lot of intriguing passages – even passages worth a quote – in the book.

    @Joanna : Oh no! I hope you have better luck if/when you read it.

  16. The Book Whisperer
    October 2nd, 2011 @ 10:51 pm

    I’m with you on this one – I couldn’t even bring myself to finish it. It seems I didn’t miss anything.

  17. Roisin
    October 7th, 2011 @ 2:11 pm

    I loved this book. I do see some of your points but I think the main point you are missing is that it is written from a child’s point of view. So although Elly was sexually abused it was never mentioned or fully explored because as a child she didn’t fully understand i.e. from the point of view of the character she didn’t really know what was going on. Which outlines the tragedy of child abuse.

    I find it upsetting that you include references to gay characters in this book “she’s seen her brother in a gay relationship, her father’s sister talks openly of her sexuality” in the same sentence as sexual abuse and then state “she’s still perfectly fine with everything and carries on as though everything’s hunky dory”.

    The beauty of this book is that it demonstrates the world through Ellys perspective. When we are brought into the world we fully accept what we see – Judgements and opinions grow each year that we grow up. Young children like Elly make no judgements on people or things, i.e. Gay straight or not – more they accept what they see as it is.

  18. anothercookiecrumbles
    October 7th, 2011 @ 9:53 pm

    @Roisin : Thanks for commenting on my blog for the first time. Apologies for upsetting you over the comment. Re-reading my post, I can see why it comes across as judgmental and possibly even flippant, but believe you me, that was not my intention at the very slightest. I think I was coming from possibly a more conservative naive place.

    When I was ten, I didn’t know what sex was, “gay” meant happy (I didn’t know what homosexuality was), and my dad was almost near perfect. Yes, I know, I was lucky that way, and sometimes, unfortunately, childhood isn’t all that innocent and safe, and I thank the heavens for the kind of childhood I had.

    I do think though, that if I had experienced all that Elly had at the age of ten, I would’ve been much worse for the wear. Different people have different thresholds, and people do acclimatise to things quickly as children – I do acknowledge that. And you’re absolutely right, children are less prone to being judgmental and condescending, and are more inclined to being accepting.

  19. sue
    October 24th, 2011 @ 2:46 pm

    I agree with you! I loved the beginning – well written and very amusing in parts. I was really wondering how it would continue, but it just got more and more tiresome, and as you say, the characters were very two dimensional. It would have made a good short story, What a disappointment!

  20. nneka
    April 14th, 2012 @ 1:33 pm

    I also bought this book based on it’s very profound title. but was completely underwhelmed by its lack of structure, unclear plot and unengaging theme. I’m no writter but the reoccuring theme for me was Nostalgia but that was milked to the point of insane boredom. 10/10 for the style of humour though

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