My favourite novels grab me and suck me in. For the length of the story I live, laugh and cry with the characters. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is one of these books; a brilliantly plotted work of fiction that left me questioning the way humans relate to the world.
Main character, Rosemary, was only five years old when her sister, Fern, vanished forever. Years later her traumatised brother walked out of her life. Now an isolated student at the University of California, she looks back at the event that destroyed her family.
Rosemary is an unreliable narrator, she hoards information, dropping one or two tantalising snippets in each chapter. ‘Starting in the middle’ she loops through her childhood memories, describing the moment seventeen years ago when she returned from a trip to her grandparents and found there was no place for her sister in the family’s new home.
Piece by piece Rosemary unpeels Fern’s disappearance, her mother’s anguish and brother’s anger. Her father, a behavioural psychology professor, is defensive. His grad students used to play with the girls and compare their development. Now they no longer visit. Were Rosemary and Fern monitored for an experiment?
Engaging and unsettling
Rosemary is a well written character. Her lifelong trauma and difficulty relating to those around her is believable and unsettling. The rest of her family act as counterweights, showing the different ways in which people process ethical dilemmas. The author plays with Rosemary’s viewpoint, using non-linear storytelling and highlighting differences in the way children and adults decode the world.
Verdict: It’s impossible to say more without adding spoilers but author Karen Joy Fowler truly deserved her spot on the Man Booker Prize’s shortlist. I thought this book was a work of genius. Beg, borrow or buy a copy and make sure you read it.