The Plot: Six-year-old Elly is a self-proclaimed loner. The only people who understand her are her jaded, dry-humoured older brother, Joe, and her troubled, unruly-haired best friend, Jenny Penny. They’re joined in this tale of childhood, friendships and self-discovery by God (Elly’s talking rabbit) and her oblivious but well-meaning parents. Also along for the ride is a cast of eccentrics, including a silver-screen-siren aunt, who is not so secretly in love with Elly’s mother, a dapper old thespian, and a Shirley Bassey impersonator. When the family wins the lottery and moves to Cornwall to start a bed and breakfast, the kids are heartbroken. Can life ever be truly complete when the people and memories that make an identity whole go missing? Elly and Joe’s quest to find happiness yields far different results from what they had expected.
The Inspiration: Having already written an unpublished love story, Winman wanted to cover a different dynamic over a longer period, which led her to siblings. “I do have a brother,” she says. “I don’t think he’s really eccentric, but maybe he’s saving something for old age!” This novel might not be an autobiography, but Winman drew on her experiences. “All the stories entered my life, maybe not directly affecting me, but they happened.” She says that when writing, she makes time to be silent. “Sometimes the greatest inspiration comes from listening for that still, small voice.”
Why We Loved It: Winman’s rich, colourful characters guide us through tragedy to see the silver linings of life and the strength and compassion relationships can bring. Elly’s observations are punctuated with humour, which Winman feels helps people see another side to things. “I am lucky to have inherited my father’s dark sense of humour,” she says. “Sometimes we laugh because we simply can’t cry anymore.” Ultimately, she gives her characters — and by extension all of us — great latitude, concluding that perhaps, given the choice, we’d all opt for an interesting life over just a good one.
Talking Points: Childhood, sibling and parental relationships, fitting in, isolation, sexual abuse, sexual identity, death.
When God Was a Rabbit, Sarah Winman, $16.