Star rating – 8/10
I love the joy of devouring a book at almost a single sitting, and this first novel by Sarah Winman was certainly one that is hard to put down. It is in two distinctly different but related parts in the life of a girl called Ellie. The first is told from her point of view as a child growing up in the 1970’s in Essex, then in Cornwall, after her family relocate there. Wiseman uses the voice of Ellie as her narrator very authentically and effectively, in a way that is reminiscent of Mark Haddon’s ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’.
Her friendship with Jenny Penny, who stick together almost like two social rejects, is very touching. As is her relationship with her pet rabbit, which she controversially, at least for some, calls God. Terrible thing happens to Ellie when she is nearly 6 years old, they are only implied but clear enough, but they are not discussed in the family at all– although they could surely have guessed at what had happened to her. She shares the secret only with her beloved brother Joe. It seems strange for the family not to have been able to be open about some things as they were about others, they are, for example, very open about lots of other things including sexuality and religion, being as they are children of the 60’s. Maybe that is just the way some families are, not everything is discussed, things are left hanging there.
The second half of the book sees Ellie as an adult, but still the events and characters of her childhood shape and haunt her. Her close relationship with her brother is one of the central themes, and the effect it has on Ellie when it is destabilised by tragic events.
At times the novel is hilariously funny, as where a young and precocious Ellie auditions for the school Nativity play in her actress aunt’s sunglasses to look more glamorous, and shocks the teachers by her inappropriate language. At other times it is totally sad and moving. But it is always completely engaging.
Just to nit pick slightly, there are perhaps a few too many themes and events in the book – so that it sometimes feels like a bit of a patchwork quilt. And the prediction of the events of 9/11 via tarot cards seems a bit clumsy. But this is an amazing first novel, with wonderful descriptive qualities, and great characterisation. Sarah Winman is certainly a very talented writer, and if this book is anything to go by, her future efforts will certainly be something to look forward to and to savour, at a single sitting or otherwise.