When God Was a Rabbit (2011)

by Sarah Winman

When God Was a Rabbit is a debut novel by a British actress who was nearing 50 when it was published. It received favorable reviews and won for its author New Writer of the Year in Britain’s National Book Awards.

The book features the eccentric Portman family and its close friends, with daughter Elly the central character. The story starts during the 1970s in London, where both Elly and her older brother, Joe, make fast friends—Elly with an enigmatic girl named Jenny Penny, and Joe with a teenage lover named Charlie—from whom they have to separate. Charlie leaves with his father, and Elly has to say goodbye to Jenny Penny when her family moves to the country to set up a B&B. The relationships, however, continue to overshadow the Portmans’ lives for the next several decades. Elly and Joe’s sibling bond is equally prominent in this story about love in many forms. There are also a couple of elderly boarders at the B&B whom the Portman family adopts; Mr. Portman’s lesbian sister, whom the children adore and with whom his wife shares a chaste love; and Elly’s rabbit named God, who she imagines speaks to her.

Winman’s characters suffer extreme misfortune—including kidnapping by terrorists, imprisonment, amnesia after being on the scene at the World Trade Center on 9/11—but the book is saved from being depressing by Winman’s ability to mix comedy with tragedy without diminishing the reality of the tragedy. It may not be true that all you need is love, but without love, Winman’s characters would not have pulled through


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