This is the fist book I’ve picked up from the Man Booker longlist. Yes I had some trouble getting a few of them while I was in the States. In fact, I only managed to pick up two, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves and To Rise Again at a Decent Hour. Since then I’ve managed to pick up a few others either in e-book form or ordering physical copies online. Happily the first two I picked up this summer have been put on the shortlist. Is that a sign that I can choose a good book by its cover? Hmmm! Probably not. Trying to acquire a few of these longlisted intriguing novels, I decided to pick up We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves first.
After reading the description on the back cover I was worried that it would be contrived and gimmicky. Some say the description is a big spoiler however I found the book was more than what was described on the back cover and anyway everybody has heard or knows the basic principle of the novel. Fowler created a story full of anxiousness, mystery, and sensitivity. We follow a dysfunctional family through the eyes of the main character, Rosemary Cooke. Or is she the main character? Rosemary is quirky, slightly guarded, highly intelligent, and honest. She is quite the reliable narrator, which we can see clearly when she second guesses some of her memories as she recounts the first few years of her life living with her “sister” Fern and brother Lowell.
The novel opens with the voice of a character who is hiding herself and her pain. A pain that she has held within herself for many years. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is Rosemary’s attempt to come to terms with all that is and has been wrong with her family since the addition of a baby chimpanzee to their family called Fern. Who would have known the consequences of this addition to the family?
Rosemary’s parents are distant and acting as they see fit or as they would think is necessary. Rosemary’s relationship with her father seems strained beyond repair. As the story continues, it becomes clear where the problems lie. The entire family has strained relationships with each other due to Fern’s appearance. It’s as if Fern became the focal point of the family and no other member of the family saw the other family members’ needs.
Fowler constructed the story in a way that you don’t get the full picture until the very last page. Starting in the middle of the story, clues about the Cooke family are strewn through the pages almost as if it were a journal. Rosemary is witty and at times brutally honest. She gives us all the information we need to know, facts included. The language Fowler uses and her writing style contribute to the novel’s emotional power. I was marvelled at Fowler’s brilliance in choosing certain vocabulary and expression. Communication and language were two of the primary themes in this novel and we as readers got to have a closer look at these themes from many angles. Communication and language are what initially separates the Cooke’s, however it is what drew them closer to Fern.
I couldn’t help it but I found myself searching for information on chimpanzees that had been raised with humans and ran across a few You Tube videos. There was something seriously unsettling, eery, and lugubrious about it all. It just didn’t seem right from the child’s point of view and certainly not from the chimpanzees’. I found this book incredibly moving and informative. I think it might have a good chance to win the Man Booker but who knows since I haven’t read any of the other shortlisted ones yet. However, this one is a must read and is very difficult to put down.
Karen Joy Fowler is known for having written sixteen books in total including The Jane Austen Book Club, which was adapted to film in 2007. Some of her other novels are Wit’s End, Sarah Canary, Sister Noon, Black Glass, The Sweetheart Season, What I Didn’t See: Stories, and many more. She broke into writing with her well-known collection of science-fiction short stories called Artificial Things in 1986. She also won the Pen/Faulkner Award 2014. She’s been lucky to have been chosen for the Man Booker shortlist, for the first year that the competition was open to authors outside of the Commonwealth, as well as being nominated for a 2014 Nebula Award. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is definitely a five-star book not to miss out on.