Review: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am not completely beside myself after reading this book. It was quite alright. A fast read. Sometimes really interesting and intriguing. Other times it felt like a succession of anecdotes and trivialities and the story kept meandering and digressing. A device I usually enjoy a lot if it’s done right. Here it mostly felt like filler material and kept me wondering what all of this was about.

If you’ve heard anything about this book before you might have noticed that the publisher is working really hard not to tell you its actual topic. I am not going to spoil that either since its revelation was one of the best moments in the book. That, however, makes it really hard to talk about this novel at all.

As a fairly unreliable narrator, Rosemary Cooke tells us the story of her life; the story of how her two siblings had to leave the family and what it was like to grow up in a house filled with grieve and longing for the past. Just so you know, that there was not a spoiler!

Jumping back and forth in her retelling we get glimpses at the past and present and information is only given to the reader piece by piece and only when the narrator feels like it. This stylistic device turns afairly simple story into something more complex but it can sometimes come across as a cheap means to make the plot more interesting.

While Rosemary tries to find herself, some interesting themes are explored. Like the importance of childhood memories and how they can be changed, invented, re-invented, repressed, and denied. We get some background knowledge on psychology (that can be a bit too much on the popular science side) and one other very interesting field of study, which I cannot reveal here without telling you the main twist of the story – so I won’t. Other themes and topics are family life, dealing with a shared past, guilt, and how memories can define and shape our personality.

What I really did not like was how later in the book the author throws in that pinch of female solidarity as another theme. Maybe I just didn’t notice it earlier but I got the feeling that it was put in quite late and suddenly. It’s like the author thought “oh, I need some feminism in my book as well. I just put it in right here. I don’t want to go all the way back and make it a proper theme”. Meandering. A word that came to mind quite a lot while reading “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves”.

To end this review on a positive note: It was a fast read, I was caught up in the story and simply wanted to know what the narrator was not telling me. All that secrecy and “I’ll tell you later. When I’m ready. Maybe.” was what kept me going. And I was satisfied when all of it was finally revealed.
It is a story about family and secrets, and if you like to read about these things than this might not be the first book I’d recommend but it IS a good one.

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