When God Was a Rabbit
London, Headline, 2011, 324p
Family has always been important to me. They have been the one constant throughout the good and the bad. I've always thought of us as pretty conventional and incredibly lucky, but perhaps not interesting enough to be a subject of literature (though my mother might disagree). I think that is why I loved this novel so much. It is just a pretty normal family, doing mostly normal things, but they are always there for each other.
When God Was a Rabbit is a fictional biography of a young girl, Elly Portman. She introduces her family with all the love of a doting daughter, describing their flaws, habits and secrets in intimate detail. Her parents are open-minded and liberal, allowing her the opportunity to develop in her own time. She is particularly attached to her older brother, who looks out for her like a good brother always should.
The novel is split into two parts, the first being her childhood and the second being her adulthood, with little discussion of her adolescence. However, I didn't feel this left the novel lacking. There are some brilliant comic scenes in her childhood, including a moment in which she is cast as the innkeeper in the school nativity. When Mary and Joesph arrive at the door, she cannot bring herself to turn them away, and rewrites the history of the Christian religion by inviting them in.
In many ways, this novel is very closely tied to the time in which it is set. Winman sporadically refers to significant cultural and historic events of the time, with a focus on random acts of violence, such as IRA bombings and presidential assassinations. These events have an impact on the world and on the family, conflicting with the love shared in their small unit. The contrast is dark and unsettling. It reminds you of the frailty of life and how lucky we are when we get through another day.
It was lovely to be amongst my family as I read this book. (I'm at home for the weekend.) Every family has stories to tell, and even these fictional accounts prompt memories of holidays spent together, laughter shared, arguments fought. Family has a profound affect on who we are and what we do. For Elly, family is everything.