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


Title: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
Karen Joy Fowler
Published: July 19th 2014
Publisher: Serpent’s Tail
Genre: Contemporary
Source: Purchased paperback

Book Blurb (Goodreads):

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.

My Thoughts

I don’t remember what initially drew me to this book. I don’t know if I had seen it recommended somewhere or whether it was just on the table in Waterstones that’s always Buy One Get One Half Price and I needed another book. All I know is that I’ve had it for a while and never really given it a second look.

It’s an interesting story. Not told in order. Rosemary is going through the strange events in her life. The main thing is the fact that when she was five years old she was sent to live with her grandparents for a few weeks and when she returns, her sister is gone. Just poof! Vanished, never to be seen again. This naturally caused a lot of friction in her family and eventually her older brother left them.

I was unsure about this book for the most part. I wasn’t bored. I wasn’t not enjoying it, but I wasn’t exactly enjoying it either. I can’t quite explain it. It’s like I just have no feelings about it, one way or the other? I’m not quite sure.

I rather enjoyed the minor twist that was thrown in fairly early. I don’t know if I just wasn’t following the book at the level I should have been because I totally didn’t see it coming. It’s a fairly interesting read, lots of psychological references that went a bit over my head.

It’s hard to say much about it because I’m worried that it may be spoilers and this is definitely a book that should not be spoiled in any way. Suffice to say that it apparently just wasn’t a book for me. I think this is the first time that I feel like I’ve just read a book with no strong opinions one way or the other.

Untitled design (3)

Buy Links!

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Barnes & Noble | Blackwell’s | Book Depository | Book People | Foyles | Waterstones

About the Author

Website | Goodreads

I was born in Bloomington, Indiana. I was due on Valentine’s Day but arrived a week early; my mother blamed this on a really exciting IU basketball game. My father was a psychologist at the University, but not that kind of psychologist. He studied animal behavior, and especially learning. He ran rats through mazes. My mother was a polio survivor, a schoolteacher, and a pioneer in the co-operative nursery school movement. Along with basketball, my family loved books. The day I got my first library card there was a special dinner to celebrate. And before I could read myself, I remember my father reading The Iliad to me, although really he was reading it to my older brother, I just got to be there. A shocking book! And I remember Mary Poppins and Winnie the Pooh in my father’s voice and a bunch of other things that weren’t movies yet. My parents strongly disapproved of the Disney version of things. Pooh believed in a spoonful of honey, but Mary Poppins did not.

I have great memories of Bloomington. Our block was packed with kids and we played enormous games that covered whole blocks of territory, with ten kids to a side. One of my childhood friends was Theodore Deppe, who’s now an outstanding poet. I planned to grow up to be a dog trainer myself.

Both my parents were raised in southern California and so regarded our time in Indiana as an exile. When I was 11 years old my father was offered a job with Encyclopedia Britannica that necessitated our moving to Palo Alto, California. My parents were thrilled to be coming back. My older brother, for reasons that escape me, was equally pleased. I was devastated.

Palo Alto was much more sophisticated than Bloomington. At recess in Bloomington we played baseball, skipped rope, played jacks or marbles depending on the season. In Palo Alto girls my age were already setting their hair, listening to the radio, talking about boys. I considered it a sad trade. The best thing about the sixth-grade was that my teacher, Miss Sarzin, read The Hobbit to us.

After reading many more books, I graduated from Palo Alto High in 1968 and went to Berkeley. I was a political science major and an antiwar activist. I was in Berkeley during People’s Park, when the city was occupied and there were tanks on the street corners, and I was there during the Jackson State/Kent State killings. I met my husband there. He’d been part of the free speech movement; that was my idea of glamor. We got married the year I graduated and we came to graduate school at UC Davis together.

As an undergraduate I had a special interest in India and Gandhi, and a general interest in imperialism. I find the intersection of cultures fascinating, the misunderstandings that occur, the mistakes that are innocently made. I’m not so fascinated by the mistakes that aren’t innocent, although there are a good many more of the latter kind. As a graduate student I focused on China and Japan. It’s not clear to me what my career goals were — whatever, I had my first child during spring break of the last year of my masters. Six days less than two years later I had a second child. My husband and I still live in Davis, although the kids have left for college and beyond.

I decided to try to be a writer on my 30th birthday.

*Picture and Biography from Goodreads

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