Book Review | We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

Book Review We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves Karen Joy Fowler

Book Review We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves Karen Joy Fowler

Rosemary is an apparently introverted college student, a bit of a loner, reluctant to open herself up and share her life with anyone. She has some heavy baggage from childhood that she will absolutely not discuss. In fact, she won’t even allow herself to think about it, self-censoring her own thoughts. Until one day when a chance encounter with a suitably dramatic drama-major unleashes her deeply buried wild side. Harlow crashes into her life smashing plates and yelling, and in this, reminds Rosemary of her long-lost sister; her twin; her “whirlwind other half”; missing since the age of 5; Fern.

Suddenly Rosemary is unable not to think of Fern. She sees her in her classes, in Harlow and mostly, in herself. Realising that confronting the issue will never get any easier, she finally allows herself to revisit and re-interrogate her childhood memories of life with and without Fern.

From here the story dips in and out of present times and flashbacks. The memories are not always told chronologically and this is extremely effective in showing Rosemary’s state of mind as she races through the past having finally allowed the floodgates to open. The happy memories come first and easily while the more painful memories are eked out, forced through conversations with family members. As Rosemary was so young, the nature of the memories call for a good deal of self-reflection which is a really interesting aspect of the book. Are we capable of being self-critical enough to accurately recall past actions? Guilt and hurt are powerful emotions – do our memories self select in order to protect us from feeling them again? Can we trust our own sense of self?

At it’s core, We Are All Completely Beside Ourself is an exploration of our human selves. Does anything separate us from our ape cousins, or do we just tell ourselves that it does? It’s an emotional ride – I not one who generally wells up at books but in particular the passage where Rosemary discovers what happened to Fern hits hard.

By it’s own admission We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves very much starts in the middle. It’s a slow start but it eventually hits it’s stride a few chapters in. Stick with it, it gets good. It gets really good.

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