We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler

Feature image from SUFFOLKLIBRARIES

Warning: Contains Epic Spoilers.


I was so intrigued by the cover of this book that I overlooked my ‘Australian Authors Only’ rule.  The cover grabbed my attention; the front promised me a surprising twist and the back outlined a childhood intrigue.   I also knew that the book had been shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2014, so I took it home and settled in.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by KAREN JOY FOWLER is an easy and addictive read.  I read the whole first half of the book in the bath in one session.  Time slipped away, and I had no idea how long I had been lying there reading.

karen fowler, we are all completely, reviews, meghan brewster reviews, book reviews, australian writers reviewed, Australian literature review, aussie writers, book reviewAs her father once told her, Rosemary the narrator of this story, begins her tale in the middle.  At the time of her telling she is a 40 something women, but she takes the reader back to a time when she was an undergraduate and university remembering life at five years old.

Rosemary has a strange relationship with her parents (present in her life) and siblings Fern and Lionel (absent from her life).  Looking back on her past, Rosemary offers the reader wisdom and humour in her hindsight.

Rosemary is a courteous narrator and trustworthy guide to the story, taking care of the reader, so they are not lost.  Guiding you as to what is important and which characters to care about, ‘Don’t get attached to him; he’s not really part of this story.’

I felt the narrator Rosemary had a similar voice to me.  I loved the cheeky little asides and comments from the narrator.  It is definitely a mystery as you realise the story is about to go back on itself.

The story is riveting, action-packed and takes you to places rarely covered in literary fiction; the treatment of animals in scientific circles.  There is a promise very early on that this book is not what you think.But Rosemary is such a hilarious and insightful narrator to be around, that you’re happy to wait.  You trust her right from the start that she is on you readers side.

Did I keep reading?  I did, but I have to say I was a little bit disappointed.  I could not stop thinking about a single sentence in the novel – ‘The thing that is being tested is rarely the thing being tested.’ – And so I waited, for the twist, for the truth of the tests to be revealed.

And I clung to the discovery of the lost diaries.  The precious diaries that Rosemary’s father wanted to be placed in a museum.  Gosh!  They must have been important for that to be an option.  When the airport misplaces the diaries I am worried that Rosemary has lost the secrets within them, the secrets her mother couldn’t say out loud.    I waited for her to opened them and find the truth.  Was she secretly being tested?  Were her parents testing her after her loss.  Did the test go on to see how a child reacts and handles grief?  Did she fail?  What was happening?

I waited paitently for her to open the diaries, as Rosemary and her new friend Harlow drank and joked their way across the city with a flirtatious puppet.

I kept thinking, was she secretly being tested?  Were her parents testing her after the loss of her sibling?  Was her memory being altered, studied in any way?  Did the testing go on after it was officially finished to see how a child reacts to grief?  Did she fail?  What was happening?

The truth is, by the time I arrived at the end; I had come up with such an incredibly fantastical ending on my own that I was a little disappointed.  The book sleeve promised me, ‘One of the best twists in years’ and the quote about what was being tested.  I had a whole scenario in my head.

I was disappointed to realise that the twist had already come in the first third of the book.  And that what was being tested, was in fact being tested.  I had to alter my whole reading of the book and calm my imagination.

It was not until I finished the book that I was able to look back on the whole novel and see it for what it was.  An excellent story.  And so there it is.  It is a book about ownership of animals and animal rights.  It is about sibling love and rivalry.  It is abut family connection.  It is about the unreliability of memory and how strangely it comes back to us.

I hope I haven’t ruined too much.

WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY BESIDE OURSELVES was published in 2013 by Marian Wood Book/Putnam, in America.  It’s 320 of pages long and took me 1.5 in bath plus a couple more afternoons to finish.

WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY BESIDE OURSELVES is Karen Joy Fowlers’s 6th novel.

Reading the book as an emerging writer, what can you learn and study.  That people love a good twist!

Interesting look at marketing the book.  In an interview with Karen Joy Fowler she stated that the twist within it’s pages, made this novel very difficult to market.  As soon as the book was released, reviewers were already spoiling the story for would-be readers.

But it is exactly the twist that motivates others to pick up the story.  So trick, to sell a book that you cannot really talk about.


Karen Joy Fowler

KAREN JOY FOWLER is the well known writer of the JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB, which was made into a film.

In an INTERVIEW with Karen Joy Fowler she said that mostly ideas of books are a slow apreciation of so many things, but not this one.  She can remember the moment the book came to her mind while wandering around a university campus and discussing the work sciented had done on animals that her daughter simply stated.  That’s what your next book should be about.

Another review NY TIMES is here – These guys spoil heaps more of the story that I did so be prepared.


by Meg

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