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We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves Paperback – 19 Jun 2014

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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Serpent's Tail (19 Jun. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 184668966X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846689666
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.1 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2,121 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,009 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


A novel so readably juicy and surreptitiously smart, it deserves all the attention it can get ... [Its] fresh diction and madcap plot bend the tone toward comedy, but it never mislays its solemn raison d'être. Monkeyshines aside, this is a story of every family in which loss engraves relationships, truth is a soulful stalker and coming-of-age means facing down the mirror, recognizing the shape-shifting notion of self (Barbara Kingsolver New York Times Book Review)

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is a dark cautionary tale hanging out, incognito-style, in what at first seems a traditional family narrative. It is anything but. This novel is deliciously jaunty in tone and disturbing in material. Karen Joy Fowler tells the story of how one animal-the animal of man-can simultaneously destroy and expand our notion of what is possible (Alice Sebold)

No contemporary writer creates characters more appealing, or examines them with greater acuity and forgiveness, than she does (Michael Chabon)

Fowler has given us the gift of a splendid novel. Not only is the story fascinating, moving, and beautifully written, but also it ripples with humor; its quirky characters include a puppet named Madame Defarge and a Seinfeldian assortment of apartment dwellers. Layered with a huge moral compass and enormous humanity, this portrait of a family one-fifth simian will, nevertheless, touch and delight every human (Boston Globe)

Hinges upon Rosemary's sharp voice, which at its best includes funny, self-aware asides such as an early reference to a character at a holiday dinner where she flippantly advises the reader, "Don't get attached to him; he's not really part of this story (LA Times)

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is that rare thing, a comic novel that wrestles seriously with serious moral questions ... Fowler knows how to make her story funny and sad and disturbing and revelatory by erecting a space in which her reader is allowed to feel all of that for herself (Salon)

So thought provoking on the topic of animal rights that it could alter your future decisions as a consumer. I don't want to say much about the plot of the book ... except to compare it to Ann Patchett's State of Wonder in terms of weaving a larger story of radical, scientific experimentation into a very personal woman's narrative (MSN)

Rosemary's voice is achingly memorable, and Fowler's intelligent discourse on science vs. compassion reshapes the traditional family novel into something more universally relevant... This brave, bold, shattering novel reminds us what it means to be human, in the best and worst sense (Miami Herald)

Halfway through Karen Joy Fowler's enthralling novel "We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves," I was sort of beside myself, too, with that electric thrill of discovering a great book. I wanted to stay up all night to finish it, but I also wanted to stop and call all my book-loving friends immediately and blurt, "You have to read this book!" (Cleveland Plain Dealer)

[A]n unsettling, emotionally complex story that plumbs the mystery of our strange relationship with the animal kingdom - relatives included (Ron Charles Washington Post)

Karen Joy Fowler has written the book she's always had in her to write. With all the quiet strangeness of her amazing Sarah Canary, and all the breezy wit and skill of her beloved Jane Austen Book Club, and a new, urgent gravity, she has told the story of an American family. An unusual family-but aren't all families unusual? A very American, an only-in-America family-and yet an everywhere family, whose children, parents, siblings, love one another very much, and damage one another badly. Does the love survive the damage? Will human beings survive the damage they do to the world they love so much? This is a strong, deep, sweet novel (Ursula K Le Guin)

It's been years since I've felt so passionate about a book. When I finished at 3 a.m., I wept, then I woke up the next morning, reread the ending, and cried all over again (Ruth Ozecki)

A profound, moving and enchanting look at a very complex family. (Anna Carey Irish Times 2014-07-05)

An astonishing achievement. Giant-stepping back and forth through the life of its put-upon narrator, Rosemary Cooke, the youngest of three siblings, the reader is treated to a wild ride of

tragic hilarity, but one which only ever serves to heighten its beautiful, heartbreaking core... a genuinely stunning novel - certainly one of the year's finest.

(Billy O'Callaghan Irish Examiner 2014-07-09)

With all the pace of a thriller and the emotional pull of a romantic novel, this masterful work is intelligently written and will reel you in, hook, line and sinker. (The Lady 2014-08-01)

My favourite book this year. (Justine Carbery Irish Independent 2014-08-10)

Explosive, provocative, and thoughtful, but still very funny. I'm so glad to have discovered the author. (Philippa Gregory Mail on Sunday 2014-08-17)

Karen Joy Fowler is a very fine novelist indeed. (Alan Murrin TLS 2014-09-11)

The strength of Fowler's writing is its piercing evocation of the dynamics of family ... probing the intricacies of love and loss with brave humour (Henry Hitchings Financial Times 2014-10-04)

Karen Joy Fowler's sixth novel examines what it means to be human, nonhuman and something in between. Using both reason and sentiment, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves holds a mirror up to reflect what we're really made of, both in what we do to each other and to other animals ... But this is no simplistic tub-thumping polemic: Fowler acknowledges the advances made and the treatments found - all thanks to primate research - for Alzheimer's, autism, Parkinson's. As Rosemary deadpans at the end: "Nobody's arguing these issues are easy." (Elena Seymenliyska Telegraph 2014-10-14)

The most impressively original book I've read this year. (Liz Nugent Irish Times 2014-12-06)

An original and spontaneous take on family that grabs you and doesn't let you go. (Judy Blume Elle 2015-06-04)

One of the best novels I've read ever. It just destroyed me ... she's writing at the absolute top of her game (Romola Garai)

Book Description

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2014

By the author of worldwide bestseller The Jane Austen Book Club: you can't choose your family, but they can make choices for you. Big, life-defining choices. Winner of the 2014 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Ajoobacats TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 1 Jan. 2015
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I heard of this book through the TV Book Club on Facebook, and quickly judging it by its cover, without reading the description, was expecting some sort of romance/family saga, but what the book is actually about is quite a challenging read, as the story starts in the middle: Rose is a 22 year old college student at UC Davis, in her fifth year, with no firm thoughts of what to major in, however, she hides from her fellow students facts about her family. she doesn't tell them she has an older brother, Lovell, or an older sister, Fern. Both siblings appear to be missing from the family and as you progress through the book you learn that Rose's mother had a breakdown when she was five years old, she was sent to live with one set of grandparents for a while until she orchestrated an escape. When found, her father returned for her and she was taken to a new home, where her parents and brother had moved to, but there was no Fern. During the descriptive narrative you pick up that Rose's formative memories are sketchy on a lot of things around the time Fern is lost and her mother is ill, however this point definitely established the before and after of the family. After, Lovell is unhappy and constantly running away and Fern is no longer there and it is Fern that kept me reading on, as I really needed to know what happened to her.

This book is funny and endearing in parts but is not an easy read, I found the narrative difficult to get into but once I had read a few chapters and acclimated the story did hook me. There is much angst and heartbreak in this story, and a lot of information about psychological experiments and protocol, however, weeding my way through all this information, what kept me reading was Rose's quest to find out what happened to Fern and then her quest to find her.

A difficult and rewarding read, definitely one which touched my heart, this is definitely a book to spark much discussion.
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212 of 240 people found the following review helpful By Rough Diamond TOP 500 REVIEWER on 6 Nov. 2014
Format: Paperback
I really wanted to like this but, sadly, I just couldn't. That's my loss, probably, as it's had plenty of positive reviews but, for what it's worth, here are the three things I disliked most about 'We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves':

1) The central idea of the book (the relationship between Rosemary and her sister Fern) is brilliant but, frustratingly, it seldom gets to take centre stage. It's as though the novel has ADHD, and rather than getting fully to grips with the amazing sibling relationship at its core, it's instead constantly being distracted by what ought to be its minor themes (family politics, animal rights activism), such that it ends up completely losing focus.

2) The plotting feels tremendously contrived, in the sense that every event in the plot is very clearly taking place for a predetermined didactic reason: THIS takes place to make THIS point, and then THAT takes place to make THAT point. It's frankly a bit claustrophobic for the reader. I felt like I was having my hand held by the author, to make sure I joined all the numbers correctly on a dot-to-dot puzzle. I didn't feel like I was being given any imaginative space of my own at all.

3) Rosemary, the book's narrator, has possibly the most gratingly glib narrative voice I've ever encountered. It could be that this is an amazing feat of literary ventriloquism. Karen Joy Fowler (who is now in her mid-60s) has created a perfectly convincing (and perfectly irritating) narrator who was only in her early 20s circa 1996, when most of the book's action takes place, and whose smug, arch and condescending 'Dear Reader' asides punctuate the narrative with dismaying regularity. Or equally it could be that Karen Joy Fowler is just inherently a smug, glib and condescending writer.
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98 of 112 people found the following review helpful By Edie on 30 Oct. 2014
Format: Paperback
It's hard to review this book because the extraordinary revelation about 70 pages in is what makes the story unique, but to spoil this for a new reader would be to rid narrator Rosemary of her intention: to get the reader to understand how normal her odd life was to her, before they pigeon hole it as extraordinary.
I loved this book. The structure is ambitious and it could have fallen flat. But it is the making of the novel. It starts in the middle - flips back and forth, with Rosemary remembering and misremembering, reinterpreting events as shreds of information arrive over the decades, to help her make sense of her life and work out what responsibility she had for the events that resulted in her sister's abrupt severance from the family. It was brave of Fowler to pick Rosemary as her narrator, since Rosemary knows almost nothing. The same story told from the dynamic reaction of her brother Lowell might have created a thrillerish level of suspense. But what Fowler excels at is making the extraordinary normal - really digging in deep to show how it might feel to have lived such a powerfully, socially alienating different life.
While the story is gripping and heart-wrenching, strongest of all is the characterisation of Rosemary. She's hard to like. But that reaction pulls a reader up short. There's nothing unpleasant about Rosemary. nothing bad or cruel. She's just...odd. Fowler shows us how easily we withdraw from the truly 'other' people around us. Not the sketched-in different-but-endearing characters that crop up in novels with, say, notionally Asbergic narrators, but someone potentially neuro-typical whose grounding in life makes her fundamentally different from us in every way, except in a way that makes it easy to categorise her as other.
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