The Rabbit Girls, by Anna Ellory

The Rabbit Girls: before we begin… 

Anna Ellory and I attended the same Creative Writing course at Bath Spa University, and I was lucky enough to be invited to review this novel as an ARC for Netgalley in 2019. So if it sounds like I’m totally in love with Ellory and her work – I am. I have since reviewed her second novel The Puzzle Women, and was included on the Blog Tour during the marketing stages for that as well. The Rabbit Girls has since become a best seller, and I’m so proud of my friend for making such a statement with her debut. 

The Synopsis:

Berlin, 1989. As the wall between East and West falls, Miriam Winter cares for her dying father, Henryk. But Henryk has been carrying a secret, and when he calls for Frieda (a woman Miriam has never heard of) Miriam discovers an Auschwitz tattoo hidden under his watch strap. As Henryk’s secret history unravels, Miriam learns of the Ravensbruck women’s camp, and the Rabbit Girls… 

Trigger Warnings:

Sexual abuse, miscarriage, domestic violence. 

The Review: 

“Five steps. She imagined each one, how they would feel; would they be any different because they were walking her to freedom? In the end, however, they had been five steps too many.”

Anna Ellory, The Rabbit Girls

Five or six years ago, I was an ad-hoc daytime companion for a lady named Erna. She had dementia, and was bedridden, amongst a long list of other ailments. She couldn’t watch television for more than five minutes without changing the channel a hundred times, unable to concentrate on anything, distracted or irritated. She hated having a pillow under her knee, but the nurse insisted. She’d try and trick you into moving the pillow, but you had to stand firm against her wily fragility. And she would scream or cry if left alone for more than two minutes, even if she’d asked you to make her a tea or fetch the paper.

But I sat with her, for hours, days, because I loved her husband like an adopted granddad. And if he needed me to sit with Erna whilst he went to the rugby, Tesco’s or any other reason – I would be there for them.

At around one o’clock, the nurses would come. They’d always politely suggest I go have something to eat or leave the room so Erna could be bathed, changed and everything else. In my young and selfish mind, I was really glad I wasn’t the one who actually had to care for Erna. That I could walk away.

Stories about anyone in this position always make me uncomfortable, because books are an escape for me. A separate world from my own which is – hopefully – slightly less tragic than the one we live in. And if the book becomes to much, I can walk away from that too. 

But with Rabbit Girls… I didn’t feel I could put it down. Not just but because I’d agreed to do this blog (I was actually two-thirds of the way through it when I was asked) but because the writing begged to be read. The story deserved to be told. And I’d agreed, whether consciously or not, to keep my promise and find out how it ended.

In half the story, the Berlin wall has fallen and in the other half, the Holocaust plagues our charming and compassionate characters as they’re tortured, experimented on and systematically destroyed. Both stories are intertwined by family, hope in the darkest of times and rebellion. 

What you should expect before going into this is:

  1. You’re going to cry. A lot. Have tissues etc prepared.
  2. You’re going to question yourself, whether you’re a good person. Whether, like me, you’re selfishly hiding from cruel realities others have suffered.
  3. You’re going to be in awe of the writing. It’s incredible, there’s no denying that.

Anna Ellory is a master (with a Masters) craftswoman of literary fiction, historical realities, and intriguing characters and narratives. It feels authentic, and it hurts. I cannot recommend it highly enough. I’m really excited to say this, to Anna’s face (potentially in an aggressive-loving-kinda-way) next week when I see her.

100/10 would recommend. Thank you for letting me be part of your Blog Tour!

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