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We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by…
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We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (original 2013; edition 2014)

by Karen Joy Fowler

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
2,9972143,300 (3.85)2 / 269
Rosemary's young, just at college, and she's decided not to tell anyone a thing about her family. So we're not going to tell you too much either: you'll have to find out for yourselves what it is that makes her unhappy family unlike any other. Rosemary is now an only child, but she used to have a sister the same age as her, and an older brother. Both are now gone - vanished from her life... There's something unique about Rosemary's sister, Fern. So now she's telling her story; a looping narrative that begins towards the end, and then goes back to the beginning. Twice... It's funny, clever, intimate, honest, analytical and swirling with ideas that will come back to bite you. We hope you enjoy it, and if, when you're telling a friend about it, you do decide to spill the beans about Fern, don't feel bad. It's pretty hard to resist.… (more)
Member:WoodsieGirl
Title:We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
Authors:Karen Joy Fowler
Info:Serpent's Tail (2014), Hardcover, 336 pages
Collections:Read in 2014, Library books
Rating:*****
Tags:fiction, contemporary, Booker Prize Shortlist, family, siblings, sisters, science, research, animal cruelty, library, female, September

Work details

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler (2013)

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English (211)  Piratical (1)  Dutch (1)  German (1)  All languages (214)
Showing 1-5 of 211 (next | show all)
This review originally appeared at Full of Words.

Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is a family saga with a twist. Unfortunately, the marketing and summaries of the book don’t try very hard to hide that twist, so if you somehow manage to read the book without knowing it, I am very impressed.

The good news is that I knew the twist and it didn’t ruin the book for me, but I do wish I could have experienced it completely fresh. The bad news is that the fact I even mentioned that there was a twist is probably telling you more than you should know.

Fowler is an interesting author. Her early works and short stories are best described as “slipstream” or “magical realism”, but she’s most well-known for The Jane Austen Book Club, a bestseller later adapted into a movie. Nothing fantastical happens in that book or in her newest novel, but as I read them, my awareness of her history as a fantasist was always at the back of my mind.

Even when Fowler’s books are technically realistic, they seem to hover on the edge of the strange. Reality is thin wherever she turns her gaze, even if it’s only upon an overly personal discussion of the complete Austen. That sense of oddness is probably why I’m drawn to her books, regardless of the subject.

Rosemary, the narrator of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, is weird and broken and compelling in a million different ways. She barrels through life, trying to run from her past and her family, but never quite escapes from her many failures and disappointments. She’s an unreliable narrator disappointed by her inability to pin down the truth.

The problem is that she can’t actually remember what happened between her and her sister when they were young, but she knows that it broke her family apart, and isn’t that almost the same thing? Over the course of the novel, Rosemary unpacks her past, dancing towards truth and only veering away when she realizes that her own biases and imaginings have become more authoritative than factual.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is quietly devastating, but it’s also funny and strange and next door to the unreal. Reading it made me misty-eyed more than once, and I always consider that a point in favor of a book. I absolutely loved it.

Full disclosure: Although I received a free review copy of this book from Net Galley, I actually listened to the audiobook. ( )
  unsquare | Feb 16, 2021 |
Huh. Well, that wasn't what I was expecting.

I'm not really sure what I was expecting, or what I got. Anyway, it's a well-written, entertaining, readable and thought-provoking novel about a young woman whose background is unusual and does much to shape who she is and how she behaves. (I know that's sort of what everyone's background does, but it's probably moreso in her case.)

4* because I enjoyed it and would recommend it. Not 5* only because I'm mean about my 5* ratings and you have to make me really fall in love to get one. ( )
  DebsDd | Jan 18, 2021 |
Prepare to weep. This book was incandescent and perfectly put together. The insertion of words and memory research was exquisite. The ending was so well done. It truly could not have been any better. ( )
  FurbyKirby | Jan 5, 2021 |
osemary Cooke is at college in California. She has no real friends to speak of. Her house mate Ted, maybe, but she isn’t sure. Then she encounters Harlow, a drama student who excels at drama. As in, over the top drama of day to day living. When they first meet both end up getting arrested.

But this isn’t the story of their friendship, or maybe that is to strong a word for their relationship. What this is story is all about is Rosemary herself, her family, her memories and her experiences as a child. It is about what it is to be human. And whether or not humanity is all there is.

Plotwise there is an important revelation less than 100 pages in, concerning Rosemary’s twin sister Fern. Which obviously I’m going to just blab here (spoilers are hidden on my blog review : http://www.susanhatedliterature.net/2015/05/we-are-all-completely-beside-outselv... )

It is a terribly sad book. But it isn’t a depressing one. It’s quite funny in places, Rosemary is a great narrator. An unreliable one, but she’ll tell you that herself. Because this book is also all about memory and how we rewrite our pasts even without knowing. A scene you remember with utter clarity might never have happened. And what does that mean? After all, our past defines us in many ways. The experiences we lived through, the lessons we learned, and if they didn’t happen the way we remember are we really who we think we are?

This was my first book by Fowler, I really enjoyed it and think I’ll read more by her. I would have like to learn more about Fern, but as Rosemary says, she can’t tell Fern’s side of the story because she wasn’t there for a lot of it, just like she can’t tell what happened to Lowell when he was absent. She can only tell you her story. It s a great read.
  Fence | Jan 5, 2021 |
I read this one immediately after Stephen King's "Revival" and almost gave it four stars in comparison -- Fowler's novel is an entirely different and realistic type of modern horror. ( )
  resoundingjoy | Jan 1, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 211 (next | show all)
Fowler, best known for her novel “The Jane Austen Book Club,” is a trustworthy guide through many complex territories: the historical allure and dicey ethics of experimental psychology, not to mention academic families and the college towns of Bloomington and Davis.
 

» Add other authors (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Karen Joy Fowlerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Berna, LauraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
del Rey, SantiagoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Falk, CeciliaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hegedűs Péter,Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hirata, GeniTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ingendaay, MarcusTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Karhulahti, SariTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lalechère, KarineTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mangold, KatharineNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Scherpenisse, WimTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Turró, AnnaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
... Your experience as apes, gentlemen—to the extent that you have something of that sort behind you—cannot be more distant from you than mine is from me. But it tickles at the heels of everyone who walks here on earth, the small chimpanzee as well as the great Achilles.

—Franz Kafka, "A Report for an Academy"
Dedication
In memory of the wonderful Wendy Weil, champion of books, animals, and, in both categories, me
First words
Prologue
Those who know me now will be surprised to learn that I was a great talker as a child.
So the middle of my story comes in the winter of 1996.
Quotations
What I found in books was daughters indulged and daughters oppressed, daughters who spoke loudly and daughters made silent. I found daughters imprisoned in towers, beaten and treated as servants, beloved daughters sent off to keep house for hideous  monsters. Mostly, when girls were sent away, they were orphans, like Jane Eyre and Anne Shirley, but not always. Gretel was taken with her brother into the forest and abandoned there. Dicey Tillerman was left with her siblings in a parking lot at a shopping mall. Sara Crewe, whose father adored her, was still sent away to live at school without him. All in all, there was a wide range of possibility, and Fern's treatment fit easily inside it.
Where you succeed will never matter so much as where you fail.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Rosemary's young, just at college, and she's decided not to tell anyone a thing about her family. So we're not going to tell you too much either: you'll have to find out for yourselves what it is that makes her unhappy family unlike any other. Rosemary is now an only child, but she used to have a sister the same age as her, and an older brother. Both are now gone - vanished from her life... There's something unique about Rosemary's sister, Fern. So now she's telling her story; a looping narrative that begins towards the end, and then goes back to the beginning. Twice... It's funny, clever, intimate, honest, analytical and swirling with ideas that will come back to bite you. We hope you enjoy it, and if, when you're telling a friend about it, you do decide to spill the beans about Fern, don't feel bad. It's pretty hard to resist.

No library descriptions found.

Book description
The story of an American family, middle class in middle America, ordinary in every way but one. But that exception is the beating heart of this extraordinary novel.

Meet the Cooke family: Mother and Dad, brother Lowell, sister Fern, and our narrator, Rosemary, who begins her story in the middle. She has her reasons. “I spent the first eighteen years of my life defined by this one fact: that I was raised with a chimpanzee,” she tells us. “It’s never going to be the first thing I share with someone. I tell you Fern was a chimp and already you aren’t thinking of her as my sister. But until Fern’s expulsion, I’d scarcely known a moment alone. She was my twin, my funhouse mirror, my whirlwind other half, and I loved her as a sister.”

Rosemary was not yet six when Fern was removed. Over the years, she’s managed to block a lot of memories. She’s smart, vulnerable, innocent, and culpable. With some guile, she guides us through the darkness, penetrating secrets and unearthing memories, leading us deeper into the mystery she has dangled before us from the start. Stripping off the protective masks that have hidden truths too painful to acknowledge, in the end, “Rosemary” truly is for remembrance.
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