Man Booker shortlisted and delightful: We are all completely beside ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Book Reviews, Book Thoughts, Recommended


Rosemary’s life is overshadowed by the disappearance of her unusual sister Fern when she was five years old. Her family was forever changed, her brother ran away a few years later, her mother disappeared into mourning for many months and resentment, blame and mystery surrounds her memory of the past. When she meets a girl at college who reminds her of her sister a series of events begin that start her re-discovery of the events of the past.

This is a marvellous book and a delight to read! As well as exploring the mysteries of human memory and the impact of a distressing event from a young age on a lifetime and family it taught me me things I didn’t know and made me think things I’d never thought. It was a wonderful mix of literary thoughtfulness (shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize after all) and real warmth and humanity.

Our main character, Rosemary, is confusing with character traits that just don’t add up. Why is it that she couldn’t stop talking as a child, but is now shy and reserved? Why does she connect with Harley, who seems to be the complete opposite to her? These contradictions propel the story forward: as we delve into why and how things happened in the past we are determined to fit the pieces of the puzzle together.

And when we work out the reason, it really doesn’t disappoint. I’m not into spoilers, which makes it hard to describe, but the book turns a complete corner which throws the reader into a completely different understanding of what is happening, and also opens up a fascinating and rare avenue to explore. I learnt lots of things that I’ve been thinking about ever since, and was just fascinated by the facts themselves let alone the still gripping story line.

The exploration of memory and particularly childhood memory is fascinating. Rosemary has forgotten or re-imagined many memories from her past – which is something that I think we all do! Her discovery of a new truth from her family members (though of course, they are all versions of the truth) allow her to move forward.

Also, a moment for the title. We are all completely beside ourselves. Just fantastic – I’d have read it for that alone. Go and read it – it’s great!

3 thoughts on “Man Booker shortlisted and delightful: We are all completely beside ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

  1. How funny! I just got home from talking this book at a discussion group. I definitely enjoyed it – I became really gripped and read perhaps the last 1/3 all in one go – but it didn’t move me. I found some of the bits toward the end a bit hectoring, pushing an agenda at the expense of the story. Definitely agree the stuff about memories was thought provoking and true.

    1. Wow that IS weird!! And I was just thinking about you today too! Wish we could discuss it in person!

      I think one thing I liked was the way that what was right to her as a child went on to affect her future so profoundly – though it does seem she processed it properly.

      I know what you mean about the agenda – but I was quite excited to delve into that world and consider the possibilities!

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