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Book Review: Karen Joy Fowler's 'We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves'


Karen Joy Fowler’s work has been lauded as possibly the best novel of the decade so far, so I decided to see what this book was all about. The narrator features a young girl, Rosemary Cooke, who in the late 1990s’ California, is coming to terms with her fractured childhood. Facing the loss of two siblings, Rosemary reveals how her psychologist father made her and her sister Fern the subject of his behavioural experiments.

What Rosemary sees as fond memories, her father’s postgrad students were using in their theses. It leaves you with a sense that while it was a happy time for the children, it was only a matter of time before things went wrong. And of course, they did.

Fowler explores issues of experimentation and animal rights in this book, through an interwoven narrative of events told at first in the present, then the past, and the future. It can be a complicated way of telling the story but it was certainly thought provoking. Whether or not you agree with Dr. Cooke’s decision to study his daughter for his university experiments, this book raises compelling questions. If you attend a book club, this novel is a good choice.

The coming of age part of the story and Rosemary’s realization of the reasons behind her siblings’ disappearances can bring you to tears. We as the readers suffer along with her as Rosemary goes through life ultimately devastated by her losses, and watch as she struggles to form relationships, often recognizing too late how her behaviour isn’t normal.

I won’t ruin the story for you and I haven’t revealed the major plot twist. There are reviews out there which do, and that can hamper your experience of reading this book, so watch out. Just pick up the book and read it. It was shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize 2014. All I can say is, based on some of the issues discussed therein, I had to steel myself not to cry while reading this one.


Review by Erin L Johnson

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