We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
Karen Jay Fowler
London, Serpents Tale, 2013, 308p
Last week, just before the winner of the Man Booker Prize was announced, the OSA staff book club met for ice cream and a discussion about one of the shortlisted books.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is a very unusual novel. Before reading it, I knew there was a twist, but not what that twist was (I love that avid readers do not share plot spoilers with each other, and will strive to continue that here).
The narrator is Rosemary, who commences her story at the midpoint. Having been a talkative child, she has learnt to start in the middle; but her story jumps back and forth so that it slowly reveals itself over time. As an adult, she confesses to being a lot more thoughtful and quiet than she was as a child, and that may be because she has not seen her brother or her sister for many years. Instead, she has carried the burden of her parent's loss (the details of said "loss" not being immediately explained), and has become an introverted young woman.
Rosemary admits to being a biased and potentially unreliable narrator. She notes that,
As the novel progresses, it becomes clear that her childhood memories are not the same as her parent's maturer adult experiences. But the profound effect of her upbringing is clear in her adult life.
"An off-told story is like a photograph in a family album. Eventually it replaces the moment it was meant to capture."
Parts of this novel reminded me of William Fiennes, who writes autobiographical accounts with extracts of scientific information, about birds or epilepsy. Towards the end of We Are Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Jay Fowler talks increasingly about animal rights; though in our book club, we felt there were a few too many inconsistencies between Rosemary's account of her experiences and her examples of cruelty to animals.
One of our book club members managed to read the book twice, and said it revealed much more on a second reading. I enjoyed the experience of reading We Are Completely Beside Ourselves, but I am not sure if there were too many coincidences for my liking.