We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

Although I’ve been a member of a book group in Whitley Bay for a couple of years now; during 2015 I’d not made it to many meetings. A mixture of crazy times at work and then no time at all at work meant that before I knew it, we’d arrived at Christmas and I was left with a somewhat guilty feeling of neglect. I vowed that this year I would make an effort to finish the books and attend the meetings – I don’t really have any excuses at the moment!

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February’s book was We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. The story follows Rosemary, the narrator, as she works through the story of how her sister disappeared from her life as a child – a story she’s never told before.

This had been on my radar for quite some time, and I was really looking forward to reading it…. so I was a little bit disappointed when I reached the end of the book and couldn’t figure out if I had actually enjoyed it or not. It certainly wasn’t one of those books that ‘grabbed’ me. There is a pretty big twist which crops up at 77 pages in; which I wasn’t expecting at all. It completely threw me off course and upended everything I was expecting from the story.

The book starts in the middle of her story; while Rosemary is an undergraduate at the University of California. A chance encounter (and brief jail stay) with a girl called Harlow leads Rosemary to share her story – or, at least; a version of her story with her. Having told this; Rosemary then admits to the reader that the story is not true – the truth is something she has never told anyone. The story then goes back to her beginning, at 5 years old, to the time when her sister was still in her life; and then finally comes back to present day.

“… I don’t see how to go further forward without going back – back to the end of that story, back to when I returned to my family from my grandparents’ house. 

Which also happens to be the exact moment when the part I know how to tell ends and the part I’ve never told before begins.”

Although the way she jumps between periods of time and memory is a clever vehicle for telling her story; at times I did find myself feeling quite bored with the narrative and a little confused with what was going on. Rosemary’s brother Lowell is woven into the story but not fully explored; which I thought was a bit of a loss and could have added another interesting element to the book. That being said; there are some parts of the book which left a real impression and some quite beautifully written sentences throughout.

The nature of the twist is such that, in order to not give anything away, this review needs to stay fairly generic in detail. What I will say is that the book deals very cleverly with the whole concept of memory: the memories we retain from childhood; the way our mind can warp them, and the impression they can leave on us as adults. It also impresses upon the reader how the drive of money and power pushes industry; held up by science and experiments. The book lays out in fairly graphic detail the lengths that those in power will go to, in order maintain their position.

“An oft-told story is like a photograph in a family album; eventually, it replaces the moment it was meant to capture.”

On reflection; although I didn’t enjoy We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves as much as I was expecting (or hoping); when I was pulling my thoughts together to write this review, I found that it deals with a lot more, and makes you question a lot more; than I had originally thought.

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