Book Review – We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
I have grand plans of reading the entire shortlist of the Man Booker Prize 2014, which I still intend to do (admittedly not before the winner is announced tomorrow though!). I chose to start with We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves which, coincidentally, was recently bought for me as a gift. After having just finished this wonderful novel, the other five nominees certainly have a lot to live up to.
Karen Joy Fowler’s novel is written in the first person by Rosemary Cooke and it is her life we are enveloped in as the story unfolds. We learn very early on that something happened in her childhood, something she doesn’t speak of to anyone – that she had a sister, Fern, who was the other half of her and from whom she was inseparable as a young child and who disappeared from her life without warning. It wasn’t long after this event that her older brother Lowell also left home and never came back. That was ten years ago and now, while a young college student, we meet Rosemary and learn about who she is, but also the life she has tried to forget.
What the book does so well and so immediately is pull the reader in to Rosemary’s world. You are intrigued by her past and what it may hold, but you also like her as a person and enjoy spending time with her. It is also a wonderfully constructed novel. Rosemary’s father always encouraged her to start in the middle of a story, so that’s exactly what the author does! By starting where Rosemary is at that point in her life we are able to get to know her before she takes us further in to the past. Karen Joy Fowler’s conversational first person style of writing was one that I genuinely liked and I think it works perfectly for this story.
It is hard to review the book without giving anything away about the story. I knew nothing about it before picking it up and would recommend that be the case for anyone else. What I can say is that it is a story about family and how our relationships within that group shape us as individuals. It is also an interesting perspective on sibling relationships and the love and rivalries they bring, which I found fascinating. As someone with no brothers or sisters I’m always slightly intrigued by and envious of the idea of growing up with people with whom you have such a lifelong bond. I’d guess the book will resonate with those who do have siblings in other ways.
It is also a book of different tones, able to be both funny and profoundly moving in equal measure. Rosemary is a witty, intelligent, complicated character, which only makes her more interesting to read about. We also meet other multi-faceted characters – her whirlwind of a friend Harley, her parents and through her many memories, her brother and sister, whose presence and subsequent absence from her life have been so integral to her development. I always prefer a book which offers me the chance to experience different emotions within one story and that is certainly the case here.
This is a truly brilliant book, which I highly recommend. If the rest of the shortlist are as superb as this, I really am in for a treat over the coming weeks!
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler is available from all the usual book stockists.