Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Book Review No. 8

And it's not a cozy! I know! Get me, reading two 'proper' books in a row! In fact, I'm even reading another 'proper' book right now. I'm starting to feel like a legitimate reader. Please allow me to introduce:

When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman.

This was actually a book club choice, but I already had it on my bookcase; I remember swapping it via the Read It Swap It website (which, by the way, I urge you to use if you're the sort of person who doesn't feel the urge to keep hold of every book you've ever read, or if you have a spouse/relative/friend who feels that way.) I think I must have seen the book mentioned somewhere as a 'must read', hence tracking it down, putting it on my unread bookcase and promptly ignoring it. This is why book clubs (I belong to two) are good for me - they make me read books I might never otherwise read and which might otherwise languish on my bookcase from here to eternity. That's not to say that there aren't book club choices that I've refused to read on the grounds that they simply don't appeal to me and life is too short to waste on books that I don't enjoy. What a rebel.

Anyway, back to the point: the book is divided into two parts, the first dealing with the narrator's (Elly) childhood, the second with her adult life. To me it also felt that the first part was sub-divided into two halves: the first being when Elly and her family lived in Essex, and the second when they moved to a farmhouse in Cornwall (after her father wins the football pools) which her parents open up as a B&B (with little idea of how to run one.) Personally, I much preferred the second section of the first half (would that make it the second quarter?!?) as the descriptions of life for the family in Cornwall were much more interesting than that of their life in Essex; I also felt that the first part was too full of supposedly comic moments which felt like they were there for effect (although the story of the school nativity play and baby Jesus tripping over a papier mache rock did make me laugh out loud [even though it probably shouldn't have.])

The second half concerning Elly's adult life is less compelling and intriguing, but perhaps this is purely because it deals with adulthood, rather than childhood in all its innocent, unsentimental glory. There seemed to be a lot of to-ing and fro-ing - one minute Elly was in New York (where her brother was living and working), then she was in London, then Cornwall, then back to New York. I found it a bit confusing at times and not as easy to follow as the first part.

There are plenty of characters in this book who are larger than life: Elly's best friend Jenny Penny, Arthur the lodger, Arthur's friend the eccentric singer Ginger, the rabbit called 'god', Elly's aunt Nancy. But that's not necessarily a good thing. When there are a limited number of characters, they don't all have to be quite so 'out there', do they? And talking of 'out there'; it seemed that if there was a drama that could befall this family (in all its extended glory) then befall it would - we're talking sexual abuse (for two or even three of the characters), domestic abuse, suicide, cancer, loss of sight (miraculously regained with the aid of a coconut, I kid you not), winning the pools, being personally affected by 9/11, being taken hostage in the Middle East and losing a body part, murder, being sent to prison, loss of the love of your life but then miraculously bumping into them again on another continent, and there may even be more I've forgotten about!

As I read this book I veered from not thinking that much of it, to enjoying it, to being bored of it, annoyed by it, enjoying it again and then being glad to finish it. I really can't decide whether I liked the book or not; I think I'll mostly err on the side of not, but I think it's a book a lot of people will enjoy. I'd be interested to hear if anyone has read it, and what you thought.

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