Thursday, 31 July 2014

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Karen Joy Fowler has just earned a place on the Mann Booker Prize long-list for her latest novel, the weirdly titled, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. The story concerns Rosemary, a long-term university student who is struggling. The reader gets the sense that there’s a deep-seated problem, and next thing you know Rosemary is in trouble for hitting a policeman at the campus cafĂ©. This launches her friendship with Harlow, a wild sort of character who is always in and out of trouble, and gets the plot off to an interesting start.

But the main story thread begins in Rosemary’s past, and for this we have to go back to when Rosemary was five and her sister, Fern, disappeared, causing a rift between her parents and her brother, and he hasn’t been seen in years either.

For me, what made this book really sing, apart from a wonderfully different kind of back-story, is the character of Rosemary herself. A scientific experiment that framed her childhood has undoubtedly damaged her and her family, but it has also made Rosemary interesting. She looks at the world in a slightly different way from most people, and this is because of her early years and Fern.

And while there is heart-break in the novel, there is also plenty of humour, with lively scenes involving student flats, missing luggage and a ventriloquist’s dummy. Fowler adds plenty of insight about the field of behavioural science, which provides the book with a powerful message. This is another great read from the author that gave us The Jane Austen Book Club and to my mind it is very deserving of its place among the best novels of the year.

Posted by JAM

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