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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This is definitely a book to spark much discussion.
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...
Published 4 months ago by Ajoobacats

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184 of 206 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I am not exactly beside myself
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,...
Published 6 months ago by Rough Diamond


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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This is definitely a book to spark much discussion., 1 Jan. 2015
By 
Ajoobacats "Ajooba Cats" (West Midlands, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (Kindle Edition)
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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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An original and rewarding book, 1 Feb. 2015
All the reasons that people might give for disliking this book are also reasons to like it: Difficult characters without any obvious "likeability", a jerky, non-linear narrative structure, messy and often unresolved relationships, unusual subject matter and some blatant sloganeering. In this sense the book is sometimes awkward and difficult, like life itself, and is not a cosy "feel-good" experience.

However, the end result is book of twists and turns that plays with different versions of the truth and certainly pays dividends if you stick with it. The unreliability of memory, the ambiguity of words, the importance of non-verbal communication, the fertile life of the imagination and the power of beliefs are all key themes that may cause you to re-evaluate episodes in your own life or think differently about those around you. And if that sounds a bit serious, there is plenty of humour in the book, often expressed in wry asides and pithy observations.

A rich and well-crafted book that lingers in the mind after you've read it.
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184 of 206 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I am not exactly beside myself, 6 Nov. 2014
By 
Rough Diamond (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
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. I'm prepared to give Ms Fowler the benefit of the doubt here, but even so it doesn't make her book any less irritating to read.

On balance, the central idea of the book is still just about interesting enough to make it worth reading, but in my view it's a novel that's far from being an unequivocal success, and frankly I'm really surprised it got anywhere near the Booker longlist.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unique, humorous and intelligent, 28 Mar. 2014
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This review is from: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (Kindle Edition)
To say too much about this novel would be to reveal the plot (something I definitely don't want to do as you need to come to it in your own time). I simply loved this book though - Rosemary made for an intelligent, witty and quirky narrator. Her view of the world, (influence in a large part by her unconventional childhood and two missing siblings) is ever so slightly off kilter but, at the same time, often incredibly perceptive. She is struggling to understand herself (and come to terms with her past) and, in so doing, also raises interesting questions about the human condition in general - including the way we relate to other 'beings'; both human and animal.

There are wonderful touches and nuances in this book and I found myself re-reading many sentences or paragraphs; either for the humour and lyricism in them, or simply because they raised interesting issues. There is nothing cliched or trite about this novel - it's the type of writing that I love; where you wonder how/why the author pulled certain things out of their brain! Like the Madame Defarge puppet. The scenes featuring her were brilliant and oddball in equal measures.

My only small criticism is that I'd have liked to know more about what happened to Harlow. Also, at times, I felt the expression of Rosemary as her five-year old self were perhaps a little too mature; but I'm splitting hairs here. I read for enjoyment and I totally and utterly, 100 percent adored this novel. It is touching, heart warming, troubling and funny - and that's a lot of emotion to wring out of a reader in one book.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant storytelling, quite apart from the actual story being told., 18 Dec. 2014
By 
To quote from a page near the end of the book: 'I've told you the middle of my story now. I've told you the end of the beginning and the beginning of the end.' The author will continue by filling in the gaps. Fowler's book is storytelling in the most traditional sense, a dialogue between reader and writer.

The narrative is not chronological but don't worry about that: in contrast to many authors who self-consciously try to be 'experimental', Fowler manages this in a way which doesn't confuse the reader, quite the opposite: you get tasters of things you will hear later which motivate you to read on. A large number of threads are opened but they are superbly managed and all of them brought to some kind of resolution, not always the ones we might wish for but ones which are plausible and realistic. The book is a story, but also more, considerably more: a reflection on human nature and identity for instance, There is a very important and central message within the book (I am not mentioning it because I don't want to spoil it) which is largely not conveyed by preaching but by illustration. By drawing us into the story, engaging us in a way which awakens deep emotions.

In spite of starting the story when I had a lot of things to do myself, I found myself drawn back to the book again and again, stealing half an hour here or there to continue my reading, losing all sense of time and place when immersed in the book.

Shame on the Booker Prize judges - who nearly always go for some kind of classical or 'literary' choice. As a result, some very boring books have been winners in recent years. This one made it to the shortlist but the theme is simply too unconventional to impress those august judgemental figures. Similar happened to some other deserving but non-winning candidates in recent years such as Ishiguru's 'Never Let Me Go', a not dissimilar novel. Fowler's book should become a classic, should be absorbed into the literature canon - but it won't: it just doesn't fit into any of the traditional literary genres, not even into the genre of 'experimental novel', many of which are largely unreadable - or just boring.

This book needs to be approached with an open mind, of course. Which not all readers do, judging by some of the reviews here. The twist which many speak of is not really the central point in the novel, which is truly one about families and about personal development. And the twist is not at all implausible, as some have suggested: this thing has actually been done to families, several times!

Anyway, to finish on a personal note: it is a long time indeed since I read a contemporary novel which engaged me so deeply.
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89 of 101 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unique, wise, dazzlingly well-written, 30 Oct. 2014
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. We can't say Rosemary is feral or autistic - she functions within society absolutely fine. But we know she'd be hard work to spend time with. And that, for me, was a powerful, deftly handled social commentary on Fowler's part. As Rosemary's world becomes better known to us, some of her odder choices begin to make sense. Her involvement with the intensely annoying Harlowe relates to an early, deep and happy connection to similar behaviour in her sister, Fern.
I particularly loved the humanity of the unfolding story. No one is to blame, not the father, nor the mother, not Rosemary, not Fern. But the fallout from a single, well-intentioned but ill-thought out decision is immense and lasting. Lowell's tragic, half-told story glowers in the background of the uneasy stability that Rosemary finds towards the end of her narrative. So many novels are touted as truly examining the human condition (whatever that is) but this one does, with dark humour and scrupulous dedication to exploring how we become who we think we are.
I feel dizzied by the brilliance of this book and want to go off and explore all other writing by this author.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Dull, dull, dull, 31 Mar. 2015
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This review is from: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (Kindle Edition)
A page-turner this was not. I struggled to pick it up and I'm delighted to have reached the end...
Working towards the crux of the story, around page 70 as many reviewers have already explained, was quite enjoyable, and then the last 30 or 40 pages picked up a bit too. The bulk of the book was utter drivel and made me a bit cross. It was all soul-searching and self-analysis that should have been kept internal. Several inconsequential and boring events occurred and left me dissatisfied.
Yawn.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not a fan, 14 Jan. 2015
This review is from: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (Kindle Edition)
Not really my kind of book. Found it to be quite boring as nothing really happens after the twist. Also thought the writing style quite disjointed as it jumps all over the place. Would not recommend.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars One interesting "twist", but otherwise a combination of generic family drama and animal rights polemic, 13 Oct. 2014
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This review is from: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (Kindle Edition)
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!).

It's actually quite difficult to say more about the book without giving away this plot detail. Let's just say this "twist" caught my attention and for a while, made me feel more interested in the book. The flashbacks to the narrator's childhood that linked to it were interesting and if there'd been more focus on those, I might have been better disposed towards the book. But then the narrative returned to the present, and despite the fact that we now have an explanation for some of the oddities of the narrator, I still found her as unlike-able and disinteresting as ever, and found most of the supporting characters to be even more irritating. Furthermore, there were suggestions that there was still one more secret childhood memory to be revealed, but there really wasn't. If the twist didn't quite qualify as a twist, then the final revelation, really, really didn't qualify as a revelation and it made for a huge anti-climax.

There were some meditations sprinkled throughout the book on what it means to be human and whether humans are really any different from other mammals and particularly from other primates. At times, these were interesting and got me thinking, but far too often, the book felt in danger of turning into a lecture on animal rights and the evils of animal testing. I was looking for a clever piece of fiction, not a polemic. Ironically, I think the message would have been far stronger if the plot had been allowed to speak for itself instead of characters being used as mouthpieces.

By the end, I just couldn't see the point of this book. I recently read We Were Liars, and while I didn't love that either, I felt that was a better portrayal of a damaged family and of the way families create their own mythology and can hide secrets. And if I wanted to learn about animal rights or human/animal psychology in detail, I'd read a non-fiction account, or at least a novel that dealt with the issue subtly. The only thing that really makes this book unique or at all interesting is the plot device I'm not meant to talk about, but despite a brief "wow moment", even that didn't bring the book alive for me.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I'm sorry I paid for this, 25 Dec. 2014
By 
This review is from: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (Kindle Edition)
I'm currently struggling to finish this book, as I started to lose interest in it quickly. The reviews suggest that this is a book you either love or hate but, honestly, it's a book that bores me. The story is written in the first person and, unless the author is trying to paint the main character as someone trying too hard to be "cool" and detached, the quality of writing is pitiful, at least to me. I have no problem with profanity in a book, but when it is being used in a desperate attempt to seem edgy, it falls flat.

Maybe I just don't get it. If people are giving this five star reviews, maybe they have seen something in it that I haven't. I didn't give it one star, because I don't really hate it, but I'm discouraged from reading anything by the same author. If I manage to get through the book without giving in and reading something better, I'll come back to this review.
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