We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
Publication Date: May 30, 2013
Length: 310 pages
Source: My own copy
Plot Synopsis from The Man Booker Prize 2014 Website: As a child, Rosemary used to talk all the time. So much so that her parents used to tell her to start in the middle if she wanted to tell a story. Now Rosemary has just started college and she barely talks at all. And she definitely doesn’t talk about her family. So we're not going to tell you too much either: you'll have to find out for yourself what it is that makes her unhappy family unlike any other. Rosemary is now an only child, but she used to have a sister the same age as her, and an older brother. Both are now gone - vanished from her life. But there's something unique about Rosemary's sister, Fern. So now she's telling her story; a looping narrative that begins towards the end, and then goes back to the beginning. Twice.
My Thoughts: Oh, I loved this novel, and I’m having a very difficult time expressing why. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is a work of literary fiction that is both intelligent and highly readable. Fowler tackles some very big, thought-provoking topics—What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to take responsibility for our loved ones? How can we atone for our inevitable failures? Big topics, indeed, and those are just a few. There is also much to think about in this novel about memory, family, and the ethics of scientific research. And yet, with all of that, Fowler keeps the plot moving quickly, with plenty of action (even some almost mad-cap comedy), and manages to keep the tone lively and even jaunty at times. The result is a witty and engaging novel that entertains as well as makes you think.
This is a book that I couldn’t put down, and it hasn’t left my thoughts since I finished it a few weeks ago. It is a terrific achievement for Fowler, and I’m glad the novel received a spot on the Man Booker Prize shortlist (first time for an American woman, folks, so that alone will, I hope, encourage more fiction readers to give this book a try).
I think one reason I have hesitated about writing a full review is that too many reviews have spoiled the surprise—and, in fact, even the back of my paperback copy spoils it! I can’t understand why the publisher, and then many reviewers, didn’t allow Fowler to reveal key plot elements in her own way. This is why, after worrying about whether I could write about this book without spoilers, I decided to use the short synopsis from the Man Booker Prize website. I’d recommend that anyone interested simply read the book, without looking at any further reviews or descriptions beforehand. I will say, though, that I knew the “surprise” before starting the novel, and I still loved it. Nevertheless, I would have loved to experience the reveal (or really, series of reveals) as Fowler no doubt intended.
My rating for We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is 5 of 5 stars.