We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves – Karen Joy Fowler

IMG_6231Genre: Contemporary, fiction

First published: May 30th 2013 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons

What if you grew up to realise that your father had used your childhood as an experiment?

Rosemary doesn’t talk very much, and about certain things she’s silent. She had a sister, Fern, her whirlwind other half, who vanished from her life in circumstances she wishes she could forget. And it’s been ten years since she last saw her beloved older brother Lowell.

Now at college, Rosemary starts to see that she can’t go forward without going back, back to the time when, aged five she was sent away from home to her grandparents and returned to find Fern gone.  


I picked this book up solely because of the reviews. And I liked the cover (don’t judge me like I judge books by their covers – I do, we all do, we just deny it). I knew absolutely nothing about it, apart from the short amount I’d read on the back cover (see above). I found the blurb (I really hate that word for some reason) intriguing and so finally picked it up one day in Waterstones.

The writing in this novel was incredible. Sometimes I found that the story was being dragged out but I didn’t want to stop reading because of the quality of the writing and I still felt drawn into the tale. Karen Joy Fowler has a way with words that makes her characters sound normal, whatever their circumstances. Yes, the writing does come across as quite blunt at times, however it is a novel written in first person and Rosemary is quite often a blunt character; she says what she wants to say and nothing more.

The novel is written in several parts, each containing at least one major event in her life. I didn’t really see the significance of the parts and to be honest, I still don’t really understand the reasoning behind them. I guess that if I reread the novel and considered it I’d realise a pattern though.

One thing that really ought to be mentioned regarding this novel is that the research behind it is clearly thorough. I don’t know what is fiction and what is fact because I am not really interested in science and psychology is not an area I’ve really ever thought about (except in a philosophy lesson when we studied Freud as a criticism to Kant’s moral argument, and psychoanalysis is not covered in this book). It’s difficult to talk about this novel though without including spoilers (which I won’t do) as there are so many plot twists and to even give a hint would ruin the entire thing.

Which leads me to talk about the plot (or not, for fear of spoilers). There are so many events in this novel that you just wouldn’t guess. Normally I would say that I’m quite good at guessing what may happen next, but with this novel, no. Nope. Did not guess. It took me completely and utterly by surprise, which was good as I haven’t been so surprised at a novel for a long, long time.

The characters I liked, although I can see why some people would hate them; they were the kind of people you either love or hate. I disliked the father though, at first for reasons I could not say – I just disliked him! Also the mother in parts I found could be irritating. However Rosemary I particularly liked, she’s an honest person and I always find that if a character is honest I like them. If they try to lie to themselves or someone else, they automatically get on my nerves.

It is quite a slow placed novel, despite the fact that a lot happens throughout it. I’m not entirely sure how to explain it. However, I did enjoy it and one way of describing it would be “thought-provoking” because it made me think… A lot. It gives you insight into something you don’t really want to know about (I won’t say because, well, spoilers) but at the same time when reading I just wanted to know more, I wanted to read the stories. Even if the tales included are made up for the benefit of the novel, there is an element of truth to them; similar things will have happened and probably will continue to happen. The main events of this story are unique or at least very uncommon, but some of the smaller events, mainly those surrounding her brother, are almost certainly the opposite.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

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