Books

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

When I picked this book off the shelf in my local charity shop I thought it looked familiar. Then I read the blurb and it sounded like a storyline I recognised, but I still wasn’t sure if I’d read it before. Since it was only £1, I took it home and read it in the bath.

It turned out I had read it before, but I didn’t notice until quite far into the book, so it must have been a long time ago. And it didn’t matter that I’d read it already, because it was very good.

We meet Rosemary when she’s at college, and she starts telling us about her childhood. She’s decided not to tell her classmates and new friends anything about her family, though: there’s just too much to explain. Besides, Rosemary spent her childhood being “the one with the weird sister” and it’s nice to be able to reinvent herself and just be who she is.

The thing is, who we are is defined at least in part by our early life experiences, and Rosemary’s were all tied up with her sister Fern. How can she be who she is while denying that part of her life? Is it OK for her to reinvent herself? Should she talk to her new friends about her family? What price will she have to pay for her silence?

I liked Rosemary as a child because she reminded me of myself: obsessed with words and wanting to prove herself. There are some great words in this book, and I’ve added several of them to my ever-growing list of words I love:

refulgent
oneiric
lacuna
inchoate
sedulously
hathos
leporine
sarcophagus
vituperative

It’s hard to review this book without spoiling the big reveal that happens a few chapters in, but suffice it to say it’s an excellent novel that will make you think about ethics, finances, the human condition and your own place in the world.

“Maybe anosognosia, the inability to see your own disability, is the human condition.”

Rosemary’s brother is an animal rights activist, and some of the things he does and says will make you think about humans’ relationships with the animal kingdom.

“I’m unclear on the defninition of person the courts have been using. Something that sieves out dolphins but lets corporations slide on through.”

This is a book for anyone who wants to think about who they are and how they became that person. If you’re at a crossroads in your life and you’re trying to decide which path to take, you’ll relate strongly to Rosemary. If you’ve had a bit of an odd upbringing and you’re either embarrassed about it or just exhausted because you’re constantly having to explain your answers to basic questions, you will enjoy it too.

Read it and think.

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