Book Review: When God Was A Rabbit by Sarah Winman

When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah WinmanI heard a lot about this book and we were considering reading it for my real-life book group. So, when amazon had it on special offer, I could not resist.

After reading the book, I’m afraid I’m going to suggest we do not read this book in my book group.

When God was a Rabbit: What it is about

This book is made up of two parts. In the first part, the protagonist, Elly, is a ten year old girl. In the second part she is an adult.

Elly as a girl finds it hard to make friends until a new girl, Jenny Penny, joins her class. They become good friends. But both Elly and her brother have to say goodbye to their best friends when they move to Cornwall with their parents.

Lots of unlikely things happen to the family and their friends and acquaintances, which continues in the second half. There are several plot lines, most of these ending well.

When God was a Rabbit: What I thought

The beginning of the book was great! I loved reading about Elly and her friend Penny, and the escapades of Elly’s brother. The writing was funny, quirky, and there was always something happening.

Then some way though the book, I started to realise I’d lost the plot. I didn’t know what I was reading, what was going on. Worse even, I didn’t care. The book had lost all its charm for me. Towards the end, there is a plot line in which the brother disappears, and this I enjoyed again.

In the second half of the book, I felt that the main character was an observer without much of a role herself in the story. In the first part, she (and Penny) were the focus of the story, but in the second part, it was all about the people around her. Maybe this was part of the reason that I didn’t enjoy the book anymore.

I didn’t understand the final paragraph of the book and couldn’t work out who “she” was (although in hindsight I think it probably was Penny).

In an Author’s Note, the author explains some of the themes of the book, and tells us what the book is about. For me, an author telling me what the book is about is a big no-no. A book should be able to explain itself, in my view.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

I got this book: from amazon.co.uk. It was a good price and I ordered it at the same time as a book for my husband’s work. My husband said his colleagues were wondering what the book was about and I think I may now be known for reading “strange books”.

I read this in: English, the original language

Number of pages: 344

First published: 2011

Genre: literary fiction, contemporary fiction

Extras: If you want to know more about this book, try Jackie of Farm Lane Books, she understood the book much better than me!

What do YOU think? Is it OK for an author to explain her book?

About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at bookhelpline.com. In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

46 Responses to Book Review: When God Was A Rabbit by Sarah Winman

  1. I agree that the first half was much stronger than the second half, but I enjoyed this book all the way through. There was so much going on that is was impossible to take seriously – I found it very funny. I don’t remember the authors note. I wonder if it was added to later editions, or if I just forgot about it?

    • Leeswammes says:

      Jackie, I did find some of it funny, and I found the beginning very good. But alas, as I said, it fell flat for me later on.

      The author’s note is in my paperback edition with the same cover as displayed in my review. There weren’t just the author’s notes, but also a few pages about “The inspiration for When God was a Rabbit” followed by a few pages on “Life as a Writer” (this was her debut!) and then a page with reading group questions. I found it all rather pretentious.

  2. Tes says:

    I almost picked up this book at the store last week. It was the best selling book here for quite sometime now. I’m glad I didn’t buy it though becoz after reading several reviews and it doesn’t sound interesting anymore.

  3. Louise says:

    I made myself finish this book. I just don’t get the hype around this book at all! I didn’t care for any of it or the characters. I thought it was a bit ott at times, and a bit unbelievable. I agree, an author shouldn’t have to explain what their book is about, surely that should be up to us, the reader, to know that.

    The best thing about this book is the cover, I don’t think I’d pick up this author again…

    • Leeswammes says:

      Pity you didn’t like it much, Louise. Not even the beginning? I thought that was quite good. The Dutch translation has an awful cover so I’m glad I got the English version.🙂

  4. Mystica says:

    I liked and understood the book very well myself!

  5. Alex says:

    This one has been in my BookDepository wish list ever since it came out. It’s interesting to see the different (usually opposite) impressions among bloggers. Whenever a book has a lot of story lines it’s always a challenge to keep the reader interested.

    How the description of place (Cornwall is one of my favorite places in the UK)?

    • Leeswammes says:

      Alex, from this book I only got a cursory view of Cornwall, it wasn’t particularly descriptive. I would definitely now buy or read it for that reason. The book is much more about people than about location.

  6. The title of the book has always piqued my interest. I agree that it shouldn’t be necessary for an author to explain to readers what the book is all about.

  7. Nice review. Atleast you liked some of it, right? It stinks when a book is so good in the beginning and then begins to fizzle. I often find I need a second wind to keep reading.

  8. Uniflame says:

    I am still curious about this book. I will get it eventually through a bookcrossing ring. But it might take a while. Too bad that you didn’t enjoy the book as much as you thought you would.

  9. How disappointing for a book to fall flat like that halfway through. I hate it when all of a sudden I feel like I have no idea what is going on.

  10. Amy says:

    The book sounds rather confusing. It’s too bad the author didn’t continue the first part of the book since a funny, quirky storyline with good characters sounds like a great book. The weird things is that I thought that was what the book was about based on some other reviews I read!

    I have found many paperbacks come with sections in the back about the writer and about the book or what inspired the book followed by a section with reading group questions…some I like, some not so much.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Amy, I found it a bit presumptuous to add all kinds of information at the back. But I guess the edition I had was printed after the book was already popular so it’s like a service to the reader. But still…

  11. Suzanne says:

    I guess I’d be interested in reading the author’s thoughts after reading the book, but I wouldn’t want his/her intentions to color my perception of their work. Sorry to hear you didn’t like this one.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Well, exactly, Suzanne. I’d be happier to look for the authors thoughts somewhere else (their website or so), but not in the book itself. It makes it look like you have to read it in order to appreciate the story.

  12. Lucybird says:

    I got an early copy of this from the publisher with no added author notes. I really enjoyed the book, in fact it has been one of my favourite reads this year. I think I would have found the author explaining the book annoying too. I think even if a book isn’t self-explanatory it should stay as a mystery, that adds something to the story.

  13. Hm. For very literary books it is okay that readers don´t understand them without help – but then it is also okay for readers not to like the books ;D
    And as you indicate, it may indeed be because the writer did not make a proper job of it that she has to explain things afterwards.

    Sometimes I appreciate tough books for work, but not for pleasure.

  14. Cindy says:

    I’ll give it a miss then, your reviews are always spot-on🙂

  15. Pingback: When God Was a Rabbit- Sarah Winman | Selections from my tower of shame

  16. JoV says:

    I don’t mind the author telling how she sees it and it doesn’t I should change my mind either. My friend has promised to loan this book to me, I was too polite to say don’t worry about it, but I’ll see how it goes.🙂

  17. I haven’t read this one yet. Maybe I’ll get it on special like you.

  18. My thoughts on the book were quite similar. I thought it started off amazingly, but somewhere along the lines, the plot just dwindled into nothing, and with the whole 9/11 thing… why, why would you do that?!

    • Leeswammes says:

      Same here. It’s good to know there are more people with the same opinion. Sometimes you think you’re the only one that didn’t like a supposedly fantastic book.

  19. Anni says:

    I would say that the beginning of the book was very promising and could bind me in anticipation of a good story. I liked the simple writing of the author. I was very anxious and hence kept reading by charm in anticipation of a good and strong plot and waited for some thing really solid to make ground for a strong sibling relation, which unfortunately was limited to sex… sister abused and brother’s witnessed by her. Then came Jenny Penny who was projected as some one EI (at least to me after reading coin incident) and thought, may be this will take some turn, but it disappointed me again. The girl was pictured as an imaginative one (speaking rabbit) but this did not lead to anything in story later in the book. 9/11 was used (and a lot of such incidents for that matter) but there was not sharpness added or interest created in the story by these. Brother lost..brother found and then again sex. I felt there were many loose ends in the story and also that too many characters (I know many other readings have many more) but I felt that they all did not add to the story line rather distracted it. Story of brother and sister with out and mention of their compassionate or caring or involved relation with each other which was least expected by me. Don’t know I might sound an orthodox reader but I was so lost and by the end, really did not care to find the loose ends

    • Leeswammes says:

      Anni, thanks for your comment. I felt the same: the beginning of the book was very promising and then it didn’t deliver. I didn’t mind the sex but the rest of the book was disappointing.

  20. Anni says:

    i m reading ‘the accused’ at the moment , by constance briscoe… n not hoping high it seems good till now… how ever i have kept my fingers crossed…🙂

  21. Uniflame says:

    Now that I have read this myself, I believe that Elly was more on the background because that was who she is. This is illustrated by her saying that she finally stepped out of her brothers shadow (when they found him and she gets really mad at him for not caring). I guess that because of everything she has been through that she was simply still finding herself and that it is so much easier playing a part in the life of others so that she doesn’t have to think of her own.

  22. The author’s note at the end was an attempt to justify the crticism she recieved on her handling of the 9/11 event more than anything else.
    But your review is spot on but for the sake of a first time author the meandering plot can be ignored for the charming and unorthodox writing which was a welcome change.

    You can find my thoughts on – http://turningpagesbook.blogspot.com/2011/12/when-god-was-rabbit.html ]

    Cheers.

  23. Pingback: When god was a rabbit book group questions – Rabbit book | Lovely Small Animal » Blog Archive

  24. Pingback: Book Read! WHEN GOD WAS A RABBIT by Sarah Winman | The Books of Life!

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