Monday, April 08, 2019

When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman

It’s nice sometimes to read a book just for the delight of it; When God Was a Rabbit is full of delight as well as some wonderful observations on life. I’m sure a lot of you will remember Judy Blume’s wonderful little novel: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.  Winman’s novel is in that lofty company. 

It’s a book about a young girl, Elly, and her brother who is five years older than she. Oh, and about a rabbit she is given and without any intention of sacrilege, she names God. Elly often gets into trouble at church, questioning things she should not. When she asks her mother if God loves everyone, “’Of course he does,’ my mother replied.” But her mother is alarmed by the question, and questions further.
‘Do you want to talk about anything?’ she asked quietly, reaching for my hand. (She had started to read a book on child psychology from America. It encouraged us to talk about our feelings. It made us want to clam up.) 
‘Nope,’ I said again through a small mouth. 
It had been a simple misunderstanding. All I had suggested was that Jesus Christ had been a mistake, that was all; an unplanned pregnancy.
‘Unplanned indeed!’ screamed the vicar. ‘And where did you get such blasphemous filth, you ungodly child?' 
‘I don’t know,’ I said, ‘just an idea’
When told that God does not love those who question his divine plan, she stops attending church. Elly’s father, a religious skeptic, encourages Elly’ rebellion against religion. “’You don’t have to go to Sunday school or church for God to love you ‘Or for anyone to love you. You know that, don’t you?’ 
‘You’ll understand that as you get older,’ he added. But I couldn’t wait that long. I’d already resolved that if this God couldn’t love me, then it was clear I’d have to find another one that could.
After befriending an 80 year old man in her neighborhood, she decides she’d like to be Jewish. She and her best friend, Jenny Penny, and her brother form an hilarious threesome as they skip through their youths. When her father wins a football pool and is suddenly a rich man, his life changes little except that he buys a new Mercedes with tinted windows. When Elly’s mother insists that the car is not them, says she won’t ride in it and then insists that either the car goes or she does, and she does.

I read this book several weeks ago, and one problem with putting off reviews is that by the time I got to this one, I had forgotten much of the story. Instead of simply going through my underlinings and notes, I started the book over, and was as delighted by it on second reading as on the first. This caused me to recall that whenever I used novels in my classes, I always reread each novel as my students were reading it for the first time, wanting not simply to refresh my memory, but to share in the emotional impact of the books which I could not do simply by writing a description. 

Winman was an actress before she became a writer, and it is obvious in the script quality of her dialogue. 
There was no great epiphany, no precise moment when I swapped the spoken word for the written word. I had been acting for twenty-three years and had always written, but mainly in script form, as most actors do.
Fortunate for us readers that she decided to write fiction, and fortunate too that her debut novel was this coming of age tale. While simply a lovely frolic for the most part, there are also darker passages when Elly describes the very different home-life of her best friend Jenny Penny. The simplicity of the writing  makes believable that it is the story of a young girl, but it also allows for a really lovely naivete, a refreshing and revealing innocence. Elly tell us that she divides her life into two parts, the first before she met Jenny Penny, and the rest after that friendship began to blossom. 
She featured not at all during this [early] period and I realize she was the colour that was missing. She clasped the years either side of this waiting and held them up as beacons, and when she arrived in class that dull January morning it was as if she herself was the New Year; the thing that offered me the promise of beyond. But only I could see that. Others, bound by convention, found her at best laughable, and at worst someone to mock. She was of another world; different. But by then, secretly, so was I. She was my missing piece; my compliment in play.
Elly could have been describing herself here rather than Penny, and for this reader, she opens up a new and refreshing world.

No comments:

Post a Comment