We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is the latest book from Karen Joy Fowler, and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2014. Although such an accolade does not necessarily make for a captivating, enjoyable read, in relation to this book it certainly does.
The novel follows, and is narrated by, Rosemary Cooke, and it begins rather mysteriously. Rosie, although once part of a family of five, with a brother and a sister, is now just one of three, along with her mum and dad. The majority of the story is told from the perspective of Rosie in her early twenties, when she has been at college for a couple of years, although behind it all is a modern day Rosie (c.2012) who has obviously lived through all of the events to be able to tell her story in retrospect. When she is at college in the 1990s, Rosie is a functioning, but perhaps not social, student who has yet to decide on a major. She has the unfortunate fortune to meet a girl called Harlow, who gets her sent to jail twice, once for misbehaviour while on drugs. It is during this evening, when Rosie has little control of her mental faculties, when everything else comes crashing down.
Heavily interspersing all of the 1990s narrative are flashbacks and tales from Rosie’s childhood, which eventually all come to impact on her adult self (although this is not obvious at first!). It’s difficult to go into too much detail, because there’s a plot twist very early on which is very surprising if you have no idea what’s coming or what the book is really about. There’s an excellent line near the beginning where Rosie tells the reader that she hasn’t seen her brother in 10 years, nor her sister for 17 years. This sounds very odd, and it is, although it’s not as weird as it seems!
This is definitely one of those books which you simply have to start reading to know whether you’re going to like it or not. Personally, although it wasn’t a ‘literally can’t put it down’ book, I did sit and read it all in one evening when I had nothing else to do, so it’s far from being boring. Plus, as Rosie is telling different parts of her story throughout the book, there is rarely a lull in the events as she jumps from emotional situation to distant memory and back again.
Those who have read the book will know that I haven’t talked about one of the most important characters/themes/issues which occurs frequently throughout the book, but I would like to keep it that way, as it is something I had no idea about when I picked up this book. Normally so much is said in the blurb that you can guess half of the story, but this is definitely not the case here. If I’ve sufficiently piqued your curiosity, go and give it a read! Highly recommended.