Thursday, December 17, 2015

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Paperback:  336 pages
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Serpents Tail, 2014
Source: Purchased from Amazon.
First Sentence: Those who know me now will be surprised to learn that I was a great talker as a child.
Favourite Quote: Language is more than just words, he said Language is also the order of words and the way one word inflects another.
Review Quote: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is a dark cautionary tale hanging out, incognito-style, in what at first seems a traditional family narrative. It is anything but. This novel is deliciously jaunty in tone and disturbing in material. Karen Joy Fowler tells the story of how one animal-the animal of man-can simultaneously destroy and expand our notion of what is possible (Alice Sebold)

Literary Awards: Man Booker Prize Nominee (2014)Nebula Award Nominee for Best Novel (2013)PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction (2014)California Book Award Gold Medal for Fiction (2013)John W. Campbell Memorial Award Nominee (2014)
My Opinion: .The strangest book I have read this year!

Well that was indeed a different read! A very odd and strange narrative, that first appears to be a traditionally told family story. However it is far from that, very difficult indeed to say much without spoilers, which I always aim not to do. 

Very briefly then, this novel starts out very normally and I thought I was going to enjoy the account of life in the Cooke household where the three siblings Lowell, Fern and Rosemary were growing up. Personally I found Rosemary to be extremely annoying, what a misery she was, making her life far more hellish than it needed to be surely. What a dysfunctional family unit they were and being used by one's parents in such a strange way obviously had a very bewildering effect on the children. When you come to the twist you will start to realise why!

There is no doubt that the author is a talented writer and in theory the plot is a very clever one and the novel is well deserving of it's short listing for the Man Booker Prize. However it was just not for me, I found the concept completely unappealing, maybe I was meant to, it is certainly a disturbing one. With the strong themes of grief, loss and animal experimentation this is not a novel for the faint hearted. 

Précis: Courtesy of Goodreads:

What if you grew up to realise that your father had used your childhood as an experiment?

Rosemary doesn't talk very much, and about certain things she's silent. She had a sister, Fern, her whirlwind other half, who vanished from her life in circumstances she wishes she could forget. And it's been ten years since she last saw her beloved older brother Lowell.

Now at college, Rosemary starts to see that she can't go forward without going back, back to the time when, aged five, she was sent away from home to her grandparents and returned to find Fern gone

Author Profile:

Karen Joy Fowler was born in n Bloomington, Indiana, USA, on  February 07, 1950 .   
About this author
: in her own words.
I was born in Bloomington, Indiana. I was due on Valentine's Day but arrived a week early; my mother blamed this on a really exciting IU basketball game. My father was a psychologist at the University, but not that kind of psychologist. He studied animal behavior, and especially learning. He ran rats through mazes. My mother was a polio survivor, a schoolteacher, and a pioneer in the co-operative nursery school movement. Along with basketball, my family loved books. The day I got my first library card there was a special dinner to celebrate. And before I could read myself, I remember my father reading The Iliad to me, although really he was reading it to my older brother, I just got to be there. A shocking book! And I remember Mary Poppins and Winnie the Pooh in my father's voice and a bunch of other things that weren't movies yet. My parents strongly disapproved of the Disney version of things. Pooh believed in a spoonful of honey, but Mary Poppins did not.

Biography courtesy of  Goodreads where the full article may be read.

The biographical information and photo used in this post are with thanks to the following websites, where you can also find more information about the author and her writing.

Goodreads - Author Profile    Karen Joy Fowler - Official Author Website    Amazon Author Page


  1. Just the words animal experimentation would put me off. I'm curious how you came across the book, was it a recommendation?

    1. It was the choice for one of the book clubs that I am a member of and the library had no spare copies so I ordered one from Amazon!

  2. Finally! I've had so many people rave about this book and, although I found it absolutely fascinating in parts I found the plot just a bit dull. I was expecting more fight. I can see why it is including in the Man Booker Prize but it just wasn't my sort of read!

    1. Hi, Jess, thanks for your comments, it was very strange!


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