Book Review: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler


Meet the Cooke family. Our narrator is Rosemary Cooke. As a child, she never stopped talking; as a young woman, she has wrapped herself in silence: the silence of intentional forgetting, of protective cover. Something happened, something so awful she has buried it in the recesses of her mind.

Now her adored older brother is a fugitive, wanted by the FBI for domestic terrorism. And her once lively mother is a shell of her former self, her clever and imperious father now a distant, brooding man.

And Fern, Rosemary’s beloved sister, her accomplice in all their childhood mischief? Fern’s is a fate the family, in all their innocence, could never have imagined. –     from Goodreads

My Rating:  ★★★

My Thoughts:  

The cover of the edition of this book that I read promised a twist.
I always enjoy a good twist in the tale, so I was looking forward to reading the book.
My attention was caught by all the commendations on the very first pages, so I decided to read a few before I started, to see what people were saying about the story.
I read a couple of pages, and by the time I’d done that I had a dawning, horrible suspicion that I knew what the twist was going to be.
I REALLY hoped I was wrong, because I wanted the shock, the surprise, the revelatory moment when you just sit there thinking ‘HOW did I not see that?’.
I started reading…
And it turned out I was right.

I was really disappointed by this, because after the reveal the narrator asks if it was a surprise, or if you had an idea, and at one points wonders if you believed Fern’s fate was… (can’t get detailed without giving the game away) and I was left thinking that I’d never thought any of those things at all, had never read it any other way than with a certain idea in mind.
I really feel as though I missed out on what could probably have been truly astonishing. A great deal was lost for me, having this idea in mind, and I would love to have been totally unaware, because I think it would have affected my opinion of the book overall.
So, if you want to go into this book blind, don’t read any of the comments at the beginning at all, go straight to the beginning of the story.

As it stood, disappointed as I was I was already invested enough in Rosemary as a character to want to know more of her story and that of her family. I wanted to learn Fern’s fate, and what had occurred within the Cooke family during those early years.
It’s difficult to say more about the story without running the risk of spoiling it, so I’ll focus on other points for the rest of this review.

Rosemary is a great narrator. She has a clear, assured voice; her tone is witty and conversational, and draws you right in, especially during the moments where she directs comments towards you as the reader.
I really enjoyed the unanticipated event at the beginning of the book which signals the beginning of Rosemary’s acquaintance with Harlow. It was just so out of the blue that I wanted to know how she would deal with it.

The story jumps about in time, starting in the middle, then going back to the beginning, then shifting focus again. This really makes you concentrate to keep up with when things are happening, and is effective in throwing up the question of what is memory and what is actual fact – Rosemary refers to some things and I found myself thinking ‘did she say this actually happened, or she believed it may have happened, or that she eventually decided she must have made that up’.
In this way I think the narrative echoes the way in which thought and memory sometimes overlaps. Past and present, fact and memory combine to make a blurred picture, which probably builds up nicely to the twist and the reveal.

I enjoyed reading of Rosemary and Fern during their shared childhood. They’re sisters, but they’re so close that they’re almost more like twins, which makes the loss of Fern have a huge impact, and as Rosemary’s involvement in events becomes clearer, you feel compelled to keep reading to seek out the conclusion and resolution.

This was quite a good read, but I do truly wish I’d had the satisfaction of being totally blindsided, for then I think I would probably awarded it a higher rating.

3 thoughts on “Book Review: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

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