Shortlisted for the 2014 Man Booker Prize,
Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is an insightful, heartbreaking but equally humorous exploration on humanity’s most basic elements.
This is a hard book to review because the hinge of the whole narrative hangs on the secret of Rosemary’s family that she has spent her whole life trying to shut away.
Once one of three, Rosemary is now an only child and her life has been shaped by the sudden departure of her sister, Fern, when she was only five years old. The sister that she had never been apart from – her ‘same’.
When a few years later her brother goes off in search of Fern, he embarks on a dangerous path that will leave Rosemary completely isolated, suppressing her families complex past until a destructive encounter with a rebellious college girl forces her to confront what happened to Fern and the role she played in it.
“Language does this to our memories—simplifies, solidifies, codifies, mummifies. An oft-told story is like a photograph in a family album; eventually, it replaces the moment it was meant to capture.”
The narrative style of this novel instantly connects to the reader. Jumps in time are marked using the world events that mark history in our minds, and Rosemary’s analysis of herself and those around her is in equal measure comically conversational and grounded in psychological studies. Whilst her upbringing is like nothing we can imagine, she talks openly about her motives, insecurities and inconsistencies in a way that is completely relatable. Her self-awareness of her awkwardness with people and her troubled relationship with her parents are touchingly familiar and yet almost clinical in analysis. She even manages to use this awareness to manipulate situations and protect herself.
The thread of psychology throughout is fascinating, particularly as it is tied so clearly to the context and to Rosemary’s past. It teaches us about how pscyhological discoveries are made and what they tell us about human behaviour in an eye-opening look at the animals we are.
But if for no other reason, you should give this book a read and find out the twist that is challenging reviewers everywhere.