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We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves [Paperback]

Karen Joy Fowler
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (735 customer reviews)
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Book Description

19 Jun 2014

***Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2014***

Rosemary's young, just at college, and she's decided not to tell anyone a thing about her family. So we're not going to tell you too much either: you'll have to find out for yourselves, round about page 77, what it is that makes her unhappy family unlike any other.

Rosemary is now an only child, but she used to have a sister the same age as her, and an older brother. Both are now gone - vanished from her life. There's something unique about Rosemary's sister, Fern. And it was this decision, made by her parents, to give Rosemary a sister like no other, that began all of Rosemary's trouble. So now she's telling her story: full of hilarious asides and brilliantly spiky lines, it's a looping narrative that begins towards the end, and then goes back to the beginning. Twice.

It's funny, clever, intimate, honest, analytical and swirling with ideas that will come back to bite you. We hope you enjoy it, and if, when you're telling a friend about it, you do decide to spill the beans about Fern - it's pretty hard to resist - don't worry. One of the few studies Rosemary doesn't quote says that spoilers actually enhance reading.

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2014.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Serpent's Tail (19 Jun 2014)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 184668966X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846689666
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (735 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 13 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 Everyfamily 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)

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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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Book of Two Parts 4 Oct 2014
This is a book of two parts. The first half is the story of Rosemary, her present day time at college and flashbacks to her childhood where both her sister and brother disappeared. These flashbacks do jump around quite a bit on her timelineThe second part of the book seems to wander away from this and is more to do with animal rights in America.

Rosemary is a very complex person probably caused by her unusual and difficult childhood. Her sister, Fern, and Fern's disappearance when Rosemary was five had a vast amount to do with this though her strange Father and her Mother's breakdown also played a significant role. Rosemary spends her whole time trying to hide who she really is and is desperate for friends. One consequence is that she gets caught up with Harlow who is rather wild.

The first section of this book is good.The author is able to bring to life the complexities of families where there are certain things that are never mentioned and how what people don't say is far more significant than what they do. The reader is able to see lots of different events and comments which go to make Rosemary the person that she is.

All of this is lost in the second part of the book. Rosemary's personality changes quite dramatically and the complexities of her as a person seem to be smoothed out. A lot of time is given over to the description of animal experiments which I found quite tedious. It isn't that I am unsympathetic it is just that I was wanting the rest of the story rather than a personal rant. At the end we have Rosemary and her mother heavily involved with an animal sanctuary but little information as to how this happened or how she and Rosemary changed as people. I found myself skimming over pages trying to find the thread of the story but I never succeeded.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Am I missing something? 6 Oct 2014
This was OK... only OK.
I bought this due to the brimming reviews on here but the twist really wasn't an anticlimax. I found myself at the end of the book wondering where the twist was.
I thought it was a good example of the author bringing in too much background research instead of the story.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
After reading the first few pages of this, I already disliked the main character/first-person narrator, who seemed painfully self-absorbed and hated the attention seeking drama student who is the other character introduced at this stage. The next few chapters go into dull detail about our narrator's family dynamic and painstakingly outline a tedious and uneventful Thanksgiving dinner. At this stage, it just felt like every other navel-gazing novel about a middle-class, mildly dysfunctional American family, and the narrator like every other over-privileged, whiny twenty-something character.

I was tempted to drop it there and then, but I stuck with it because a)surely all the good reviews and the Booker nomination meant it had to get better, b)occasionally the knowing, self-referential narrative voice caught my attention, and most importantly, c) from both the text and some of the reviews, I was getting the hint that there was something more to the plot - some sort of underlying family secret.

About a quarter of the way through the book, we find out what this secret is. As this isn't mentioned in the blurb and comes as a bit of a surprise, I suppose it should be described as a twist, and I suppose I shouldn't reveal it. But I found it very odd that the author and/or publishers and publicists had decided to treat it this was. For me, this revelation came so early and was such an integral part of the book that it really should have been in the blurb and all over the advertising material. It's sort of like if all descriptions of Twilight were careful to avoid mentioning that the love interest is a vampire in the hope that readers will be shocked when they find out (not that I like Twilight, I hasten to add, but it was the best parallel I could think of!).
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books I have read for ages 1 Jun 2014
By elsie purdon TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I have just finished reading this novel and am completely bowled over by it, and also still feeling very emotional. At the end I cried.
This is not a a story of a messed up family . It is a story of an unusual family.
At first I found the main character Rosemary very odd and the novel felt odd. Rosemary is telling the story and she is starting in the middle. We don't yet know why anyone is the way they are.
Once the story reaches a certain place and I had a context for Rosemary and her siblings then I realised I was reading a remarkable novel.
The book has a dry humour that totally appeals to me. I began to feel at home with this imaginary family and wanted them to be real people who are living somewhere.
There is also a lot of information packed in here which I am taking as reliable because of the author's references to other pieces of writing, and other books at the end of this book.
I do not want to even hint at the twist, apparently already given away in a review in The Times. So I can only speak vaguely.
It is a story about an unusual family, their relationships and their memories of events. Two people hardly ever see the same event in the same way. In a family an event can have several explanations.
The novel is American. Some of the references are too American for me to know, but that doesn't matter.
Throughout the book are scattered words I don't know, have never heard of. I suppose I should look them up in my dictionary but I can't be bothered and I don't think I am losing out by not bothering. If the meaning is needed in the novel it gets explained.
I think this book can be life changing because it gives the reader a lot to think about, if they want to.
I love love it. Am glad I read it and totally recommend it. I think this is a book about the way we live on the this planet and the way we effect it. There is a serious side to this writing, clearly the author has serious concerns and I feel in agreement with her.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars but I'd have liked more analysis of the differences between the...
Hmmm. The premise was interesting, but I'd have liked more analysis of the differences between the sisters. Read more
Published 12 minutes ago by Ms. IM Burton
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best reads of the year
Stunning. There's no other way to put it - this is a breathtaking examination of the family unit. Without wanting to give spoilers, there's a twist about 100 pages in which... Read more
Published 3 hours ago by Mr. Paul S. Bird
4.0 out of 5 stars well worth a read
Can't tell you much as there's a twist at the heart of the book, that you won't see coming. But a really interesting premise for a book.
Published 6 hours ago by lojo
3.0 out of 5 stars A tragic tale
I enjoyed this book but the theme was so hard that I found it difficult to finish.
Published 6 hours ago by alimaeb
5.0 out of 5 stars Gave me nightmares, but I still loved it
This book was shortlisted for the Man Booker and I don't normally like Booker nominated titles, but this one was an exception. Read more
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5.0 out of 5 stars challenging and rewarding
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Published 22 hours ago by LuIngham
1.0 out of 5 stars A much typed novel and apparently a best seller.
A much typed novel and apparently a best seller.. All I will say is that it has to be the worst one I've read this year. Read more
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5.0 out of 5 stars I was completely mugged by this. An informative and ...
I was completely mugged by this. An informative and entertaining read, despite some very disturbing scenes, and a compassionate central voice. Read more
Published 1 day ago by Anthony P. Collins
5.0 out of 5 stars A joy.
Witty, emotionally honest yet full of the best writing tricks-the most reliable of unreliable narrators, many will be more eloquent than I can (or can be bothered to be!! Read more
Published 1 day ago by thepiratevandelle
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
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