We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
|We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: An intriguing tale of sibling and parental relationships that turns on an original twist. A Man Booker winner? I don't think so. A worthwhile way of spending an afternoon? Definitely, but enjoyment may be diminished if you know the twist beforehand.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 320||Date: June 2014|
|Publisher: Serpent's Tail|
|External links: Author's website|
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2014
Rosemary's childhood is blighted by the disappearance of her sister, Fern. Rosemary went to stay with her grandparents and, on her return Fern was no longer there. Curiously enough, her mother and father don't speak of it. The knock on effect was the angry departure of Rosemary's older brother Lowell whom she also misses. As she grows to adulthood, Rosemary remembers trying to come to terms with this, the damage that being a daughter of a psychologist has wrought and the revealed secrets that will finally make sense of it all.
Karen Joy Fowler is the American literary fiction/SF/fantasy author who made a best seller about a book club discussing Jane Austen which eventually spawned a film. (Both called The Jane Austen Book Club oddly enough.) It was therefore with great eagerness I cracked this novel open, described by Son Number 2 as one of the lighter Man Booker 2014 long-list offerings. It may be light but for me the attraction is the intrigue about the circumstances that would make a small child disappear and encourage parents embrace silence on the subject as if she hadn't existed.
Karen also realises that this is a huge selling point and gently beckons us via Rosemary's first person narrative with hints and subtle suggestions that keep the pages turning. The time frame jumps back and forth as this middle child, reveals the story piece by piece in an order designed for the greatest dramatic effect, leading to the now famous page 77.
On page 77 the almighty revelation occurs that changes our perception. Rosemary playfully suggests that readers may have spotted it but here's one who didn't. The only problem is that once the shock is out of the bag, the story loses a touch of momentum (so hopefully none of you will find out in advance) but there's still a fair bit going for it.
One of the reasons for continuing is Rosemary herself. She's obviously been affected by the hole in the family as she and Fern were very close in age and relationship. Rosemary comes to the gradual realisation that her childhood was one big experiment and so she has to come to terms with her father's betrayal while trying to forge a life that can't be normal.
We don't get to know the other characters as well as we may want to. For instance I would have loved to have heard more from Rosemary's mother's viewpoint but this is definitely Rosemary's show. Although one thing we do get to see is the devastation in Lowell's world as he resurfaces 10 years after Rosemary last saw him. Being old enough to discover what had been going on at the time has brought him additional turmoil. Having moved away and so unable to rebel against his parents, he rebels instead against their ideas, bringing him in conflict with society.
As you may have guessed, there is heartbreak and sadness but Karen isn't averse to lifting the mood with the odd sprinkling of humour. I found myself giggling audibly when Rosemary's mother tries to teach the little lass what behaviour isn't expected at kindergarten.
There are also some fascinating glimpses from outside the story as Karen shows she's done her homework. I don't want to spoil anything so I'll just say that she lists some case studies via Rosemary's narrative that sound outlandish but actually took place in reality. The introduction of these not only educate us – and make us gasp in some cases – but also make Rosemary's family that bit more credible.
This is where I stick my neck out and say that I don’t think this is a book with 'Man Booker Winner' stamped on it but it's novelty value and subject matter (not to mention page 77) makes it a worthy long list addition. I wish Karen well and reassure her with the fact that my annual predictions haven't been right yet!
Thank you, Serpent's Tail for providing us with a copy for review.
Further Reading: If you would like to sample the breadth of Karen's subject matter, we recommend The Case of the Imaginary Detective.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler is in the Man Booker Prize 2014.
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