Magazine article The Spectator

Triumph and Disaster

Magazine article The Spectator

Triumph and Disaster

Article excerpt

When God Was a Rabbit

by Sarah Winman

Headline Review, £13, pp. 325,

ISBN 9780755379286

The title of this first novel refers to a version of childhood as a magical kingdom where evil can be overturned and heaven and earth remade at the whim of a powercrazed infant. In fact our narrator's world has already been darkened by the time she is presented by her beloved elder brother with the rabbit she insists on calling God.

She has been sexually abused by an elderly neighbour, a Jewish musician who fascinates her with tales of the concentration camp in which he was never interned. The brother discovers the betrayal, promises to keep it a secret and - this all happens in the first 30 pages - terrifies the elderly musician into suicide.

Oh dear - already I am referring to Mr Golan as 'the elderly musician' as though I were, in some way, on his side. It is indeed tempting to champion the lonely misfit - if only because his victim, Elly, comes across as a monster without meaning to out herself as anything more troubling than brave and disturbed. In fact she is the best advertisement for letting go of the inner child that I have ever encountered.

Her story begins in 1968 and continues until some months after 9/11, taking in a childhood move from Essex to Cornwall and adult spells in New York and London.

The cast is made up for the most part of loving, distracted, faintly zany wouldbegoods.

Some work, or have worked, in the theatre, others dream of doing so.

The plot is moved forward by the sort of devices beloved of children's stories - a win at the football pools, the death and resurrection of a beloved pet, telepathic links between best friends torn apart by wayward parents, lovers reunited by catastrophe. …

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