Karen Joy Fowler’s highly praised ‘We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves’ is the follow up to her acclaimed novel The Jane Austen Book Club’ But if you’re picking up this Man Booker Prize shortlisted piece expecting more of the same, you may in for surprise. It seems that expectations are better left at the door.
What we have here a first person narrative told about a somewhat dysfunctional family. So what? I hear you cry, but this is dysfunction with a twist and at it’s finest. Avoid any spoilers about the book, and embark upon it with an open mind.
The novel follows the rather engaging story of Rosemary Cooke, whom we meet at the middle of her story. At first, Rosemary, appears to be your generic emotionally charged teenager, finding her way through the difficulties of college life. She reflects a lot on her time as a child, which seems quite normal and her past is narrated upon in such a perfectly honest and humorous way that it will have you both laughing and empathising. Eventually we learn that her mother and father are people who refuse to talk about her sister who vanished when she was five, or her brother who has been missing for 11 years and is wanted for questioning by the FBI. Rosemary cannot remember how her life came to be this way, but she wants to know and understand, and slowly but surely a jigsaw puzzle is pieced together of her life.
If you think at this point, that you have the plot figured out, and you’re dusting your hands, think again. It’s really not what you imagine it to be, it’s so much more.
What Karen Fowler has written here is an incredibly intelligent and compelling novel. It deals with issues of a somewhat scientific and political nature, but she has written it in such a way that it avoids proselytizing. It also takes a look at family life and dynamics, and it also makes you question the power of memory and the way in which we perceive events as they unfold. It is a delightful book, full of surprises and wry wit, and if you’re a logophile, you’ll love the vast use of language that she uses. Definitely deserving of its spot on the Man Booker Prize Longlist.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is published by Serpent’s Tail and is available for the Kindle from Amazon.co.uk (RRP £7.99) The print edition is available from all good book shops (RRP £7.99)