Book Review – When God Was A Rabbit

by limebirdwriters

“When God Was A Rabbit” by Sarah Winman

Book Cover

‘When God Was A Rabbit’ is a book that I can’t quite decide if I like or don’t like. I recently finished it and am left with that disappointing feeling of, what actually happened?

Now, don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy it in some respects, especially towards the end, but I did feel that most of the time I was confused about where the characters were and what was happening. You know when you get to the end of a book and you get asked: “What was it about?” you find yourself thinking: “Well, I’m not sure.”

Not to be negative, I have to say that this debut novel by Sarah Winman is well written and focuses nicely on the importance of family and in particular the love between a brother and a sister. If you don’t know much about the book, the story is told from the perspective of a young girl called Elly from childhood to adulthood. With some interesting characters along the way, we hear about Elly’s life and all the trials and tribulations in between, with a backdrop of many important events from the 1960’s up to the early 2000’s.

I really wanted to love this book, I had heard so many great things about it, but it took me a few goes of picking it up and putting it back down. It didn’t grip me like many other novels, but when I got into it I did find some of the parts interesting. Like I said earlier, I don’t want to dwell too much on the negatives as this is someone’s novel, someone’s baby. I know what it’s like to write something and put your heart and soul into it and someone writes badly of it, but I don’t want to lie either. I did enjoy the characters in this and I did find some heart-warming aspects and I think there are a lot of people who would enjoy this book.  I also found that Winman’s ability to bring her characters to life with a whimsical nature was nice. That’s the thing though. It was nice. Not earth shattering, but not awful. Just OK.


The main thing that left me unsatisfied is that so many questions were left unanswered, as if the author forgot that she knew the answers but didn’t let the readers in on the secret. Also I found that the level of adult themes and language seems a little unrealistic for such a young protagonist, with many scary themes addressed like child abuse, and what I can only assume is forced suicide? (Mr Golan). Don’t get me wrong, I am not in any way suggesting that things like this don’t happen, but it seemed weird that Elly doesn’t seem to be affected by this in any way. Also, why were her parent’s allowing her at 4 years of age to go over to a weird old man’s house?

I also found some scenes a bit shocking, like the sex scene with Elly when she is an adult. Now, I’m not a prude at all, but I didn’t really feel that the language really fitted in with the rest of the book. I just kind of felt myself a little taken aback and shocked by the whole thing. Is this supposed to be a late reaction to the abuse? I’m not sure.

Also, we have Jenny Penny, Elly’s best friend who appears to be a central theme throughout the novel as a sort of anchor for Elly to come back to. However, we are never really explained things like why she can pull a 50p piece out of her arm, or walk on water. The only hint we are given is that she was ‘born dead’ (in her words), so is able to do special things. Other hints of magic we are given are with the rabbit. The reference to the title of the book is the rabbit, which Elly can hear and speak to. I wasn’t sure if it was just used as an allegorical device, or if she could actually hear him. Suffice to say, I wasn’t convinced I knew the point. I would understand if there was a stronger magical theme, but it seemed randomly dropped in, so I was a little confused (if you haven’t noticed already).

As we get towards the end of the book and Elly switches between New York and Cornwall. There were a few times where I was a little confused (again) as to where she was sometimes, and she tended to jump from one place to another. This meant that I found myself skipping back pages to try and work out where this was going on.  Sometimes I could sense a deeper literary writing, some richer themes, but then they tended to trail off.


So, to sum up, I did enjoy the way it was written as I think she’s very talented, but it felt like she had tried to shove in too many themes into one book. This meant that I was left feeling a little disconnected and confused about what was happening sometimes. Also some of the drama throughout the book felt like it was put in to create a reaction, then not thoroughly looked into.

Also, I know this is just a bit pernickety from my side, but I couldn’t help but notice a few mistakes in the text. Maybe I should write a letter to the editor so they don’t print the typo’s again, what do you think?

Overall, I would probably give it a 3/5 as I enjoyed the way it was written.

Please do let me know if you have read this and what you think.


10 Comments to “Book Review – When God Was A Rabbit”

  1. Hmm this book definitely doesn’t seem like my cup of tea, but it’s interesting to hear your thoughts on it. Just from reading your comments I’m confused as to what the themes of the book are and what genre it would fall in: Child abuse, suicide, imaginary bunnies and arm monies all seems a bit strange to throw together. I don’t think I’ll be giving this a go tbh I confuse myself enough, I don’t need books to do it! 😀

    • No, well I wasn’t sure if it was going to be mine, but I ‘d heard a lot of good things about it, but just ended up being disappointed.

      Exactly, hence the confusion. It seemed like she just threw loads of different themes and ideas into one, so left all of them a bit underdeveloped. Haha, well no I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it unless you’re really into that kind of thing. Very strange.

  2. Very interesting reviews. Great to read your thoughts on it. I look forward to reading more reviews~

  3. Are you sure the title isn’t “when the goat was a rabbit”?! Took me three attempts to read the title correctly (I blame the swirly writing) – I blame the early morning Edinburgh flight for my mishaps 😦 xx

  4. You picked up more detail on Jenny Penny than I did. She was also ‘magic’ at the piano … for no apparent reason. Thanks for visiting my blog- and yes, good to know our reading experiences match up with this one.

    • Ah yes, I forgot about that. You’re welcome, it’s nice to see a review that’s similar to yours. I just still don’t know how I feel about it. There were aspects about the book that I enjoyed, but I left feeling a bit disappointed, which is never good for a book!

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