We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves – Karen Joy Fowler

By bogotapost October 10, 2014

Karen Joy Flower - We are all completely beside ourselves, Man Booker PrizeREVIEWING THIS book presents a dilemma: to reveal, or not to reveal. Because there’s one important fact that is not mentioned until a quarter of the way through the book – and it completely colours the way you will read it.

I’ve opted for a very oblique reveal – and would advise you to read the book and let it unfold as the author intended, without looking at the blurb or other reviews.

Narrated by Rosemary, who begins by explaining that she was “a great talker” as a child, the chatterbox narrative style can at times leave the reader feeling as if they’ve been talked at by someone so desperate to get the words out that they can hardly pause for breath. Indeed, as an adult, Rosemary has ceased to talk much at all.

It is, however, an engaging style and the theme of language – of speaking and not speaking, being heard and not being heard – is key in this heart breaking, humorous and thought-provoking novel.

It is a story rooted in loss – a family broken apart by the loss of a daughter – and of the disintegration of the family unit that follows.

And it is a coming of age story, as Rosemary’s unique childhood results in a unique coming of age. When she winds up in the police station after getting caught up in some college cafeteria craziness, it is the beginning of a whirlwind friendship with the wild and dramatic Harlow.

Finally, it is a novel about humans and animals. About animal intelligence and rights and behavioural science, questioning nature vs nurture and exploring the ramifications of scientific experimentation.

Interspersed with quotations from Kafka’s ‘A Report for an Academy’, Fowler’s light-hearted backdrop frames serious questions about what it is to be human and what it is to be animal.

By Elizabeth Hastings