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We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves [Paperback]

Karen Joy Fowler
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (534 customer reviews)
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Book Description

19 Jun 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 (534 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 16 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)

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
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book is an amalgam of various American icons and themes. As a little girl, our narrator, Rosemary, has the adult-in-a-grown-up's-body of Scout from To Kill A Mockingbird, whilst as a college student, she meets Harlow, her first real grown-up friend who comes over like Madonna: sassy and street-wise, and by taking Rosemary out of her comfort zone, she is the mechanism that allows the narrator's odd family story to unfold. On the surface, Rosemary's home-life is not that strange - a dad who becomes increasingly detached and unloved, a 'mom' on the verge of a nervous breakdown, a runaway brother, an unusual family pet, and an oft-referred-to inciting incident . . . The book's chronology switches backwards and forwards, before and after this incident, which when it is finally laid-out in front of us, doesn't seem "inciting" enough for what followed and the impact it had on all concerned. Ultimately, this is about the distorted realities and mythologies of all families (again, a very familiar theme), and how we all pay a heavy price for miscommunication and mistaken memories. After a fire-cracker start, the book flattens out, but finishes with a very powerful last page - and for me, that's only enough to get three stars. "Me Cheeta" covers some of the same territory, but with much more wit and wisdom.
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pitch perfect 20 Aug 2014
By Helen
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I'm working my way through the Booker longlist and, while I've enjoyed what I've read thus far, this is the first book I've personally completed that has a genuine sense of humour and made me laugh out loud. That's not to say it's a comedy or a light-hearted trope - it's really, really not - but it is part of the human condition that we find humour even when times are black so, despite the plot being far removed from my own experiences, I found it compellingly believable and realistic.

The main character, Rosemary, is cleverly conceived. As a small child, she challenged herself to learn new 'big' words and this is perfectly mirrored in her narration, where they are often thrown in. She is isolated and, she believes, unloved, but she's a genuine, warm person. The twist in the tale, coming not at the end but before the middle of the novel, had me gasping in shock. Fowler's plotting and chronology are pitch perfect. My only complaint is the ending seemed to happen far too quickly and I wished for a lot more.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
By Ursath
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I bought this book due to the Booker Price long list, and was left with an uneasy feeling after finishing. The writing is beautiful, let me get that straight. Love the vocabulary, the phrasing- it is very genuine and I found it easy to bond with Rosemary, the protagonist.

But I am left with a host of issues: Just what was the book about? About Rosie and her emotions, the struggles of her childhood? The fact that her childhood and her lost sister have set her apart from others? Or is it about raising awareness of how we treat human beings, which is something that develops later in the book? I felt as the story went on, the motifs were all over the place.

I finished in three days, initially because I was curious and the build-up was great, but from mid-point simply because I grew annoyed, wanting to find out just what the point of the story was. The plot-twist (which is quite unlike any other I have read) was intriguing at first but I felt it could have been much more focussed in the second half of the book.Some characters were strong and memorable (Harlow, Reg, Matt) but others were just a bloat to the story (grandmothers and fathers, brother's friends, girlfriend).

Would I recommend it? Yes, perhaps to experience the interesting story telling and the plot twist. 3,5 stars from me.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
By T. M.
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Karen Joy Fowler‘s book only really jumped out at me from the Amazon bestseller list because of the captivating cover, I’ll confess. But reading a story like this without knowing too much about the plot is a good idea, because this is a novel full of surprises and characters worth getting to know. I won’t spoil any of the major plot points, even the ones which come early on, so that you can get the same out of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves as I did.

I’ll just say that this is a great book for anyone who enjoys the vagaries of a really heartfelt first-person narrative, and anyone with any interest in psychology and human nature. It’s not a dry, scientific dissection of the latter, but a naive (and latterly a heart-wrenchingly wise) examination of family, memory and what it truly means to be human.

The story is told by Rosemary Cooke, a precocious child who somehow turned from a happy chatterbox into a strangely silent and isolated college student. She gives you the window into her past that she denies her friends, teasing with early suggestions that something big has shaped the way she, and her entire family, is. Revelations spring up in every chapter, feeling like much-desired pieces to a beautiful puzzle rather than random moments of inspiration on the writer’s part. It is as if Fowler inhabited the character’s thoughts and her history while she wrote this. Rosie is by turns hilarious, painfully honest, observant, and then perhaps even betrayed by her own memory and nature. Any way that you view her as a protagonist, you root for her and read her disjointed memories with a determination not just to get to the root of the story, but to enjoy her whimsical telling of it.

It begins in the middle, ends more than once and begins again. It’s a real masterpiece of construction and style, and the plot is one you won’t forget in a hurry. I’d recommend it to anyone.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars What is this book trying to say?
It is very difficult to review ths novel without revealing the twist, which occurs quite near the beginning, and is crucial to the plot. Read more
Published 12 hours ago by F. M. M. Stott
5.0 out of 5 stars A fantastic story that anyone with a strange and unconcentional family...
A fantastic story that anyone with a strange and unconcentional family can relate to. I could not put this book down! Highly recommend :)
Published 15 hours ago by emily howard
3.0 out of 5 stars a compelling read
I enjoyed this book, it was very interesting but I found I didn't really like any of the characters. Also,the writing style left me rather confused.
Published 19 hours ago by Lu
3.0 out of 5 stars 0k - Just not quite for me
An interesting read- but the subject matter too much of a mis- match to me. I thought family dynamics captured well- and the things we choose to remember or mis- remember which... Read more
Published 22 hours ago by Susan Benjamin
4.0 out of 5 stars really enjoyed this book!
Really enjoyed this book! Found myself asking if it was truth or fiction. Non preachy but thought provoking. Good read.
Published 1 day ago by jhm
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
intriguing, unexpected & fascinating. Stayed awake at night reading too long, as had to find out what happened next.
Published 1 day ago by miss tilly
5.0 out of 5 stars Chimp
Well written, thoroughly researched, emotive and interesting. What more do you want for a couple of quid, eh? Tell me that...
Published 1 day ago by Steph
2.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable read for the first third... ...
An enjoyable read for the first third... Swiftly turning into frustration during part two and ambivalence during part three. Read more
Published 1 day ago by Elizabeth Davies
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Wow, very interesting, the first account I have read from the 'human child's point of view.
Published 1 day ago by Mme Krus Anne
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
I liked this book although I was disappointed by the ending.
Published 1 day ago by rw
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