Reviews provided by Syndetics
Library Journal Review
In this quiet stunner, short-listed for the Costa Book Award, Winman (When God Was a Rabbit) explores the triangular relationship connecting reserved, working-class Ellis; Michael, Ellis's best friend since he moved to Oxford to live with his grandmother; and Annie, the woman Ellis meets while delivering a Christmas tree and eventually marries. Ellis's love of art was encouraged by his mother, Dora, then rudely squelched by his abusive father after Dora's death; the daring and original Michael, close to freewheeling Dora as a child and just as close to Annie after she and Ellis wed, serves as counterbalance and support in Ellis's troubled young life. Their deeply knit relationship veers into the sexual, but we know from the beginning about Ellis and Annie-and, tragically, that Ellis is a widower. So what happened? What's refreshing about this work is that it's not a standard triangle full of love and fury, smashed crockery and switching partners. Instead, as Winman threads together a poignant story comprising past and present, we see vibrant friendship and awful heartbreak bravely borne, delivered in language that's sure, swift, and gorgeously affecting. Verdict Winman makes the everyday remarkable; readers will want to watch this work unfold. [A May 2018 LibraryReads pick.]-Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Review
Ellis Judd doesn't know he has a heart. He's been too busy protecting it, as Winman (When God Was a Rabbit) reveals in this achingly beautiful novel about love and friendship. The story unfolds in luminous prose as Ellis, five years a widower in 1996 Oxford, his grief still palpable, looks back on his life, reveling in his mother's love of art, which she shared with him and his closest friend, Michael. Ellis sacrificed his artistic ambitions when his abusive father made him follow in his footsteps to work at a car plant. His life implodes when his mother dies, and he finds comfort in his relationship with Michael, which evolves into something much deeper-but then Ellis falls in love and marries a free spirit named Annie. The three adults become an inseparable trio until Michael suddenly leaves Oxford for London. The tale's second half is told in a different but equally powerful voice through Michael's diary, which gives insight into his childhood up through the year he spends away, as well as the reason he returns to his two companions. In sharp portrayals of the three adults, the author shows how, despite all their challenges, they are able to love and support each other. Without sentimentality or melodrama, Winman stirringly depicts how people either interfere with or allow themselves and others to follow their hearts. (May) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
In the present day of Winman's third novel, 1996, Ellis Judd works nights at an Oxford car plant, where his taciturnity and his unparalleled finesse in removing dents precede him. At home, before bed, he visits with his wife, Annie's, ghost. Ellis grasps at memories of her, and of another love whose loss is, at first, less defined. In 1963, age 12, he meets newly orphaned Michael, who quickly becomes his inseparable best friend. Ellis loves to draw, but Michael knows how to talk about art, a passion he shares with Ellis' mother. As the boys become teens, their magnetism morphs subtly, then all at once. Without saying too much, there's a significant shift in perspective at the novel's halfway point. Readers learn how Ellis' relationships shaped him; like the storied hero whose name the novel shares, the part Ellis struggles to access has more to do with belief than actual lack. Strong characters, settings, and ambiance mark Winman's (When God Was a Rabbit, 2011) unique and uniquely affecting story of love's varieties, phases, and ability to bend time.--Bostrom, Annie Copyright 2018 Booklist
Kirkus Book Review
A love triangle in the age of AIDS from a British actress and author (A Year of Marvelous Ways, 2015, etc.).In the first part of this slender novel, set in Oxford in 1996, we meet Ellis, a 45-year-old widower who works the night shift in a car plant. Ellis has yet to recover from the death of his wife, Annie, five years before. But there's more to his melancholy: Ellis, we learn, was forced by his father to work in the plant and abandon his hopes of becoming an artist. There's also the matter of Ellis' intense relationshipemotional and, for a time, sexualwith Michael. The two met as boys of 12 but became estranged as adults. The second part of the book, set in London in 1989, is told from Michael's point of view. It opens with him caring for a former lover, G., now dying of AIDSvividly and harrowingly depicted. But as it turns out, Michael considers Ellis the love of his life. The narrative shifts back and forth in timenot always smoothlywith secrets spilling out in the manner of the television show This Is Us. The book is at least partly about recovering from profound loss. But the writing is overwrought ("He was aware of her aliveness, the brutal honesty of her desire") and the narrative too dependent on illness and accident. A copy of a Van Gogh paintingwon by Ellis' mother in a raffleplays a pivotal role in the proceedings, yet the chatter about painting and art is mostly banal. So too the descriptions of the natural world, with abundant references to snow in the first part of the novel and cicadas in the second.Though it has its affecting moments, the book tries too hard to be searing and soulful. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.