So when I started When God Was A Rabbit, I wasn’t expecting much. Especially as how it’s been critically acclaimed (generally the sign of a dull book, in my experience). Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I looked up a couple of hours into my reading session only to realise that I was halfway through. The two hours had flown and I was really enjoying it! I know - I was astonished too.
When God Was A Rabbit is a very sweet coming-of-age novel about a young girl growing up in Essex and then Cornwall with her parents and brother. The story tells their trials and tribulations as viewed through the eyes of a young girl. Elly’s life is contrasted throughout the book with the life of her best friend, Jenny Penny, who has a turbulent home life with her mother and her mother’s succession of boyfriends. While Elly has a fairly idyllic upbringing, Jenny Penny has a pretty awful time of it.
The plot is split into two parts, the first part being set when Elly is a child and the second part when she is an adult. The plot is really just a series of anecdotes - it doesn’t have a rigid structure and kind of meanders along but this matches the writing style and the general feel of the book, so in this way it really worked. Really, When God Was A Rabbit is about love, in all its forms, and the people and relationships that define us.
I loved Elly’s family in this novel. They reminded me a lot of Gerry’s family in My Family and Other Animals - well-off, eccentric, laid-back, welcoming of bizarre strangers into their lives. It made for a really lovely tapestry of characters and very pleasant reading.
The author’s writing style is very clear and accessible. It manages to be very emotional without being mawkish and it’s also hugely funny, although many of the references will work best if you are British and have a fairly clear memory of what it was like to grow up in the 1970s and 1980s.
There’s a huge lack of tension in the novel, which was really the only sticking point for me. Everything seems to drift along quite nicely and although bad things happen in the book, somehow everything seems to get resolved satisfactorily. One of the bad things that happens is sexual abuse. So, you know, pretty bad. The narrator is abused as a child by an elderly neighbour, but when she talks about it she seems very philosophical about it. She just kind of shrugs it off. Very odd. Maybe there was a layer to this that I just didn’t pick up on, but this didn’t really ring true.
In all other respects though, this was a very sweet book and well worth a read. I wouldn’t necessarily have spent money on it, but definitely worth getting from the library.