When God Was A Rabbit

Sarah Winman

Young Elly's world is shaped by those who inhabit it: her loving but maddeningly distractible parents; a best friend who smells of chips and knows exotic words like 'slag'; an ageing fop who tapdances his way into her home, a Shirley Bassey impersonator who trails close behind; lastly, of course, a rabbit called God. In a childhood peppered with moments both ordinary and extraordinary, Elly's one constant is her brother Joe.

Twenty years on, Elly and Joe are fully grown and as close as they ever were. Until, that is, one bright morning and a single, earth-shattering event that threatens to destroy their bond for ever.

Spanning four decades and moving between suburban Essex, the wild coast of Cornwall and the streets of New York, this is a story about childhood, eccentricity, the darker side of love and sex, the pull and power of family ties, loss and life. More than anything, it's a story about love in all its forms.

To download the podcast featuring Richard and Judy interviewing Sarah Winman head to http://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/id436366121


I loved this book, an extraordinarily accomplished novel by a debut author. It’s the story of the deep and unbreakable bond between a brother and sister, and chronicles four decades of family life. And what a family. There is Kate, the mother, beautiful and effervescent. Alfie, the father, a solicitor and stern atheist, but with a heart of gold. Then there is Nancy, Alfie’s sister, a stunning actress (and later, film star) who also happens to be gay and has always been in love with her sister-in-law.

The children are Elly and Jo. The book is narrated by Elly and begins when she is a little girl of around four. Jo is a few years older and fiercely protective of his sister. As they grow up, they tell each other everything – from Elly’s unpleasant sexual experience at the hands of an elderly neighbour, to Jo’s realisation that he is gay, and in love with his schoolmate, Charlie.

Elly’s best friend is Jenny Penny. A strange little girl with a man-eating single mother, she becomes so close to Elly’s family that she’s almost part of it. But then Elly’s parents move from London to Cornwall.

Here, other characters move into the story. There is Arthur, the dapper elderly lodger, and his great friend Ginger, an eccentric but charming singer.

This is a wonderful story about a family, but it is also about love in all its forms. It encompasses tragedy, but it’s also gloriously funny. The writing is full of warmth and affection. Read it, and it will warm you too.


I really enjoyed this book, which is, as Judy writes, beautifully written. I loved the family, with all their eccentricities and frequently hilarious conversations. When they move to Cornwall, as a result of winning the football pools, they live in a beautiful big house, and turn it into an upmarket B&B. Elly’s rabbit, which she calls ‘god’ has now started to talk to her, and the conversations between them are funny and surreal.

Elly’s family is a beacon of warmth. They attract eccentric characters like bees to pollen, and their lives become woven together.

But, funny and affectionate as this story is, it does not skirt around tragedy. On 9/11 Elly’s brother Jo is in New York, where he works at the twin towers. On that shocking day, Jo goes missing. Elly flies to New York and begins a grim search for her brother with his friend Charlie. They don’t find him. The family is devastated. The atmosphere in New York at that tragic time is vividly described. The anguish and fear of the friends and relatives as they search hospitals for their loved ones, the despair on their faces as they plaster photographs on the downtown walls, asking if anyone has seen their husband, daddy, sister, wife, son...

When God was a Rabbit is a novel about life, love, and family relationships. And of course, real life is by turns funny, mundane, joyful, sad, and sometimes tragic. So is this marvellous book.

To download the podcast featuring Richard and Judy interviewing Sarah Winman please click here.

Reviews & Comments

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  • This is an excellent choice you two! When God Was A Rabbit is gorgeous read. Sarah manages to bring every character to life in such an amazing way. Go get it now!


  • So glad you chose this book, it deserves to be read widely. I really enjoyed it and like you, found it to be so warm and engaging. The characters were so rich and believable and I laughed out loud as well as cried in a couple of places. Quite embarrassing on a commuter train I can tell you!


  • Lots of excitement over this book and whilst it did make me cry at one point and was warm and interesting in others, overall I felt it was just 'OK' and had a rather disappointed "ending". Easy reading for holiday or relaxation.

    Caroline Evans


    'When God was a Rabbit' struck me as a strange title. In many ways this a strange, but readable book. The story of Elly, her brother and her friend Jenny Penny. Some things are never really explained, which I found quite frustrating, like the 50p piece which Jenny Penny pulls from her arm with a future date on it. The central theme seems to be about relationships between brothers and sisters, parents and children, adults and children in general. The actual historical events acts as backdrops to what is going on within this family and their friends. The '9/11' event becomes suddenly very personal and is dealt with very tactfully and is full of emotion. I did enjoy this book, but found it ultimately frustrating as there were things that wasn't dealt with.

    Debbie Taylor

  • I know I should, but I really didn't enjoy this book. I couldn't understand where it was going. I appreciate that the book is delving into the complex relationships between friends and family but it just didn't do it for me at all. It might be because I read this straight after finishing 'One Day' which was fantastic.


  • I really enjoyed this book and found it hard to put down, there are some very sad incidents but also some laugh out loud moments. Very much recommended :)



    Started off enjoying this book. However I got to a stage where there were parts that I couldn't understand. Every thing was too neatly tied up. The brother being found alive after 9/11, the old man getting his eyesight back. No seeming trauma after being abused at aged four. The attraction between the mother and her sister in law? Sorry for me all too unreal.

    Ann Alan

  • When God was a Rabbit is a delightful, light-hearted tale of family and friendship. The book goes chronologically from the 1960s towards the present day, against a backdrop of major global and national events (e.g. election of Thatcher through to 9/11). It is a story that shows the transition from child to adult, from innocence to experience. It’s an enjoyable read, but lacked the depth to really get to the hearts of the characters.

    Catherine C

  • A truly magical read, one you must read as soon as x

    Julie Humphreys

  • loved this book! Laughed, cried, think I really identified with Elly's underlying loneliness.Couldn't put it down:devoured it in a weekend.

    Helen Mary Prew

  • I struggled to get started with this book, possibly because the writing style is so different to the last few books I've read. I did enjoy the book, but found some of it difficult to understand and felt like I had to keep guessing at what the author meant which left me wondering if I had the right end of the stick. I don't feel like I connected with Elly, the main character, but loved the more secondary characters, aunt Nancy, Arthur and Ginger. While this isn't a book I would read again, I think I would read another by Sarah Winman. It has helped me out of my 'reading rut' and I am looking forward to reading the other books on the list.

    Rhian Daniel

  • I loved this book, great characters and story

    Karen L S

  • Loved this book - beautifully written!


  • I found this book difficult to get into, after a while i really got into it, but then something very unlikely would happen. This happened several times and after 9/11 i lost patience with it and couldn't see where the story was ultimately leading.


  • A good book, well written in terms of the writer getting you to 'feel' the characters. But it's a very busy story - anything that could happen to a family does. And every problem is dealt with neatly over time. This is why it isn't an excellent book in my opinion.


  • I agreed with the other comments it was difficult book to get into & didn't tie things up properly at the end. I enjoyed the second part better when the children became adults.Not bad but have read better.

    Patricia Reader

  • Found this book quite difficult to get into and have yet to finish it. I also read one day before this and loved it so much. I simply can't connect with the characters in this book like I could with one day.


  • Okay so the first alarm bell rang for me when I was expected to immerse myself into a fully believable tale whereby a couple were allowing their 4 year old daughter to spend endless hours in the company of the old man next door (who was nothing more to the family than the old man next door)! (As a parent - I'm sorry but this is an obvious no,no!) And the inevitable happened - how sickeningly predictable. Not a great start. To be honest, there were a few bits of the first half of the book that made me laugh - it was not a gripping read by any stretch of the imagination but it was easy reading and I felt, for the first 140 or so pages that the story might actually be going somewhere. It become quickly apparent soon after this though, that the story wasn't actually going anywhere. The 'adult years', in my humble opinion, were a badly described, jumble of events - some of which made sense, some of which didn't .... few of which seemed relevant. I feel the last half of the book lacked any kind of storyline and kept dipping in and out of the lives of too many characters - none of which I particularly cared about. Half the time I wasn't sure who was being written about!! I think Sarah Winman's inexperience showed actually. The book was utterly disjointed and didn't flow at all. By page 80 I'd promised this book to my next door neighbour - now it's going in the charity bag!


  • I am so pleased I chose to read this book as I was originally a little put off by the title. The story centres around a girl called Ellie growing up in 1970s Essex and decides to call her new pet rabbit god. It is a beautifully written and captivating story that is really all about family and in particular the bond between a brother and a sister. Despite being incredibly easy to read, the book deals with complex issues really well and all the characters are so well-formed and realistic. I absolutely loved it!


  • So glad I am not the only reader to be at odds with this book. I so want to say I loved it all but as with other readrers, found myself frustrated. I had to read some parts more than once to make sense. For instance does the kidnapped friend have both ears and hands cut off or is this in her imagination.To sum up I can only sayy that I absolutely loved half of this book!!!


  • I very much disliked this book and only continued to read it because I'm a book masochist. I found the style irritating; I think it's hard to do 'happy' in a way that doesn't stick in the craw or sound simply quite superficial and saccharine. This book, in my opinion, fell straight into this trap. It seemed like it was written in a hurry, I certainly read it at a very quick pace. No depth of character, far too many things going on, too many quirky synchronicities neatly tying up all the potentially tragic but then terribly lovely events of the book. Nothing really explained, just skimmed over - the supernatural, child abuse, domestic violence, 9/11 .... all glossed over with a hefty dose of whimsy. Pointless.


  • I did enjoy this book at times but found it very sad at points and all a bit jumbled. I liked reading about when Elly was a child rather than an adult. The ending didnt feel like an ending and the book was not a riveting book.


  • i've just finished this book and I have to say I found it to be one of the best I've read in a long time. OK the structure can sometimes be confusing but it's plain to see that its confusion and leaving us in the dark is no accident, Winman knew exactly what she was doing, as she gives with one hand she takes away with the other which cements this novel as compulsive page turner that will have you laughing and crying simultaneously. Added to this the story, wonderfully bittersweet, with characters you immediately take on as friends makes this book one of the best I have read in a long time. I would recommend it to anyone.

    (N.B one of the words in my captcha to submit this review is "coconut" which I find weird! Anyone who's read the book will know why!)


  • I absolutely LOVED this book. So beautifully written, and the characters come to life. A story of love within a family and between friends, and how they cope with each of their own personal traumas. I particularly loved the characters of Arthur and Ginger, so colourful and so easy to like. I also like the way the author split the book between childhood and adulthood, and how real life news events are incorporated. I was surprised that this is the authors debut novel, and am so looking forward to what she writes in the future.


  • I enjoyed reading the first half of the book, but then I felt as if I was losing track of the plot and I wasn't really interested any more. I finished the book but found myself skim-reading and not particularly interested in anything that was going on. I felt it was too descriptive and long winded. I didn't feel a connection to Elly at all and felt like the story didn't go anywhere. I'm still slightly bemused as to what actually went on. Disappointing, although the writing was very good in places.


  • A light easy read with an unexpected twist...A lovely story of the different relationships we form during our lives.


  • I really enjoyed this book, the style was difficult to understand at first but i think it depicted how a childs thought process goes - jumping from one thing to another. in part two the writing style was much more fluid which makes me think this is what the writer implied. it dealt with the 9/11 very tactfully. and it was truly heartwrenching when reading about her brother in part two. although it took me a while to get into this book i really enjoyed it and would reccomend to anyone whos looking for an easy read :)


  • Wonderfully whimsical

    Lisa Hyde

  • What an usual title, bought it at the airport thinking it was a bit odd but once again loved it, so not my usual choice of read which is why I loved it even more, great characters, beautiful story, so sad in parts but hysterically funny in parts, must read


  • I bought this book as I was intrigued by the title! I enjoyed it to begin with, when Elly was a child (although the Mr Golan thing was a bit weird) but as she got older I thought the book became a little disjointed and muddled. I found it difficult to follow at times and towards the end of the book, the author became a little longwinded and I felt, almost cathartic in her prose. I loved the friendship between Elly and Jenny Penny in particular and Arthur's dry sense of humour was entertaining. However, it was a little far fetched when he suddenly regained his sight with a knock on the head by a coconut! I did enjoy the book though and look forward to Sarah's next one.


  • How many families do you know with one child abused, the brother gay, child's friend abused and ends up murdering someone, brother caught in twin towers, then he's not? Too much for anything like reality...annoyingly over dramatic..


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