When God was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman
Some sort of contest seems to be going on among authors at the moment to see who can come up with the most ridiculous title for their book. For the record, God is the name the narrator of this début novel gives her pet rabbit. The title does at least set the tone for a story that is ridiculous at times, but also eccentric, hilarious and brave.
Winman is a British actress who, if this first outing is anything to go by, has a big future as a novelist. She tells this coming-of-age story in two parts. It begins with Elly's account of growing up in 1970s London. Though her close family is a loving one, there is evil and darkness pressing in.
Elly is molested by a mentally ill Jewish violinist neighbour, who then goes on to kill himself. Her best friend, Jenny Penny, has a tarty mum and a series of "uncles", her own mother is half in love with her gay aunt, her lawyer father is having a breakdown, and her brother is coming to terms with his own sexuality.
Things are complicated in Elly's life and yet the fairy tale, childish quality of Winman's writing means there's a lightness to it all - even the disastrous nativity play that ends with baby Jesus in a coma.
When the family wins the football pools (the pre-Lotto way to be a millionaire in the UK), they move to a big house in Cornwall where they start to collect oddball hanger-ons that help make up for Elly's loneliness and the untimely death of God the rabbit.
Part Two begins in the mid-90s, with Elly grown up and struggling to establish her own life.
The story continues through to 9/11 and the way that event touches the lives of those she loves. Inevitably, some of the lightness leaves the writing here - even Winman can't be amusing about the fall of the Twin Towers.
There is a lot going on in this book issue-wise - from faith and sexuality, to coming to terms with being an outsider, to loss, abuse and the general unfairness of life.
Winman balances these themes with pathos and humour. She has a particular talent for comedy and at times the book is laugh-out-loud funny.
All in all, this is an immensely readable novel, a little bit bonkers and a lot of fun. Oh, yes, and quite possibly it wins the contest for strangest title.