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When God was a Rabbit book review

Written By Franklin V on Friday, November 18, 2011 | 9:20 PM

Book: When God was a Rabbit 
Author: Sarah Winman Hachette
Pages; Price: 330 pages; Rs 295 

Eleanor Maud lives in our times. She wakes up to the same newspaper headlines and devastating images of hate and destruction. She watches the same movies and has grown up listening to the same Shirley Bassey songs. And, of course, she puzzles over the same questions that we do: What's the matter? What's a slag? Does God love everyone?

Unlike most of us, however, she actually gets answers. So when, as a four-year-old in Sunday school, she asks if Jesus was an unplanned pregnancy, the vicar throws a blazing fit. "Do you honestly think that God loves those who question his Divine Plan?" he screeches. "Well, I'll tell you missy he does not. "

At which moment Elly makes two decisions. She's never going back to Sunday School. And "if this God couldn't love me, then it was clear I'd need to find another one that could".

The stage is set for the sometimes endearing, sometimes disturbing story of Elly, her eccentric family and God. For God is omnipresent in Elly's world. Her father determinedly doesn't believe in him. Her neighbour, the 80-year-old Mr Golan, lights candles to announce his Jewishness and talks ceaselessly about "suffering". And Elly lands the role as the blind innkeeper in her school's Nativity play. (A dramatic exercise which ends with hysteria, bleeding knees and the headline Baby Jesus Dead. ) So it's only fitting that Elly decides to call her rabbit God.

When God was a Rabbit is written in two parts. The first traces Elly's childhood in Essex;her bond with her exotic but protective brother;and her intense friendship with Jenny Penny, who arrives on their street one night in a yellow car with her feckless mother. "They lived in a temporary world of temporary men, " Sarah Winman writes, "a world that could be broken up and reassembled as easily and quickly as Lego. "

When Elly's father wins the football pools, her parents decide to buy a white mansion in a remote corner of Cornwall and run an unconventional Bed and Breakfast. And so Elly gradually loses touch with Jenny Penny and joy -stepping into that period of her life in which "the dull tint of disinterest" make even rainbows appear grey.

The second part of the book starts 15 years later - with a birthday card that Jenny Penny sends Elly out of the blue. Jenny Penny is in prison. While Elly is unable to hold onto jobs and is seized by moments of terror that make her feel that "both I and the world are all wrong". Although much less engaging than the earlier accounts of a quirky childhood, this part describes the healing power of friendship.

When God was a Rabbit is woven out of many threads. It dwells on the love between a brother and sister. It's equally about best friends. And about the paralysing helplessness of childhood. In some lights it is captivating and luminous;in others it is bleak with disillusionment.

The story has its unbelievable and irritating moments, but Winman's writing holds it together effortlessly. The narrative is alive with whimsical phrases and bejeweled descriptions - and manages to capture the clarity and confusion of childhood.
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