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We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves [Paperback]

Karen Joy Fowler
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (757 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.

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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 2.1 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (757 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 28 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)

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)

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
19 of 21 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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I too was glad when it ended 13 Oct 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The cover states "Hilarious & Heartbreaking".

I couldn't find anything remotely hilarious, heartbreaking yes and slightly disturbing.

That said, I couldn't put it down but as someone else has already mentioned, I too was glad when it ended.
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40 of 47 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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59 of 70 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't read if you have things that need doing 31 Mar 2014
By Chantal Lyons VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I had the twist in the story spoiled for me by a review in The Times, but I'm glad about it, because in spite of the other glowing reviews, books that are simply about people's messed-up families don't normally appeal to me. This one, though, has a unique concept at its heart that elevates it above many of the books in its genre. It's especially recommended for animal-lovers.

Fowler's writing, apart from a few instances of purple prose, is highly immersive, and the humour is dry and well-observed. Once you know exactly why Rosemary Cooke's family is so unusual, the book's emotional heft comes from discovering in piece-meal fashion the inevitable yet still hard-hitting revelations of the past. This is a story that simply won't let you go, and will linger long after you've finished it. It poses hard questions and acknowledges that there may never be 'right' answers to them, and it thoughtfully explores the consequences of a real-life scientific experiment that was conducted in several families in the US in the twentieth century (if this doesn't make much sense, sorry - I don't want to give the twist away!)

Beautifully written, and bound to make your eyes prick with tears by the end. I especially appreciated the bitter-sweet ending. Life is rarely otherwise.
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21 of 25 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
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
This was a really good read. I loved it and could not put it down.
Published 9 hours ago by J. Brazill
1.0 out of 5 stars I just can't get into this or see what the ...
I just can't get into this or see what the point of it is so haven't bothered to finish it. Life is just too short sometimes. Maybe I will try again at another time.
Published 17 hours ago by No 19 Wellie
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Absorbing read fascinating.
Published 19 hours ago by valerie
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Read
Thank goodness, at long last an erudite and well written book with some depth to it. Bought this before I knew it had been nominated for the Booker and am disappointed it didn't... Read more
Published 1 day ago by ednaheap
5.0 out of 5 stars thought provoking page turner
Having read about Washo, I was fascinated by the idea of the story from the children's point of view although I didn't realise Fern's antecedents until I was told in the book. Read more
Published 1 day ago by Beverly Tonkin
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved this book
This is one of the best books I have read in recent years. Lovely in parts and utterly heartbreaking in others - and not easily forgotten. Read more
Published 1 day ago by Carole Swan
3.0 out of 5 stars Strange story
I cannot say that I enjoyed this book. The order in which it is written is confusing and there is quite a bit of repetition. Read more
Published 1 day ago by Mrs. A. B. Woodcock
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A must read, I found it very humorous in parts. 😃😀
Published 1 day ago by Maree O'Neill
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
excellent value
Published 1 day ago by Mrs.M.M.Budek
4.0 out of 5 stars Very well written and very moving as well as funny in part
Unusual book. Very well written and very moving as well as funny in part. An awful lesson in the effect of a father's experiment involving his own family.
Published 2 days ago by E. M. robinson
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