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Secrets, strangers, brother and friend

  • Oct 10, 2012
A quiet girl leads an ordinary life in a small town in Essex, and is quietly lured astray by a neighboring “stranger.” In this place where everyone knows everyone else, nobody sees what’s going on except Elly’s brother, who saves her and swears her to secrecy. Elly needs a confidante of course, and her best friend's either the girl with untameable hair or the pet rabbit she names, rebelliously, “god." The rabbit's name causes some trouble in Sunday school of course and provides an intriguing sense of continuity as Elly grows up, her friend disappears, and the rabbit doesn’t.
The first half of Sarah Winman’s When god was a rabbit reads like a memoir of Elly’s childhood—the brother who doesn’t fit in; the new home where Elly doesn’t fit; the strangers who slowly become friends after the family moves to Cornwall; and the things we carry with us even when everything has changed. The voice is consistently gentle and humorous, making this a very pleasing and poignant read. A fine cast of characters is collected togethe, from the Lesbian aunt with the slightly mysterious past to the awkward childhood friend with the mysterious future. Lodgers larger than life weave onto the page, and the traumas of abuse or homosexuality almost seem incidental as the characters grow up in the book’s second half—just part of a larger life lived larger than life.
The rabbit speaks, as does a child eventually. The present day is more than the present day’s preoccupations. And in the end it’s not just Elly who might choose to tell or keep secret the shadows of the past. But the promise of the future calls throughout this lovely book, laugh-out-loud funny, heart-breakingly sad, deeply enthralling, and tellingly real.
Disclosure: My wise sister-in-law suggested I read this.

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About the reviewer
Sheila Deeth ()
Ranked #41
Sheila Deeth's first novel, Divide by Zero, has just been released in print and ebook formats. Find it on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, etc. Her spiritual speculative novellas can be found at … more
About this product


This is a story about a brother and a sister.

It's a story about childhood and growing up, friendships and families, triumph and tragedy, and everything in between. More than anything, it's a story about love in all its forms.

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