We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
I knew nothing about this book before I started it, except that it was by Karen Joy Fowler and there had been a lot of buzz. I’m very glad about that. So if you like engaging stories with wonderful writing and a quirky narrative style (not hard to read but also not entirely linear), STOP READING THIS REVIEW and just go get a copy and read it. Seriously.
This is a simply fabulous novel and I want to thrust it into everyone’s hands. The only reason I didn’t quite read it in a day is that I was travelling, and I’m not great with reading in the car.
Books this one reminded me of: Justine Larbalestier’s LIAR (not for the content so much as the narrative style – revisiting events to give more detail, for example – and the question of truth); Jo Walton’s AMONG OTHERS (ugh, families, seriously what can you do); and, very vaguely because it’s a long time since I read it, Caroline McDonald’s SPEAKING TO MIRANDA (again, weird families).
This novel, in case it’s not obvious, is all about family. How the different members interact, how they remember things from their collective history, how they treat one another and why, the consequences of that treatment. Rosie’s family is not a happy one, and it’s clear right from the start that something difficult happened early in Rosie’s life. Fowler does an excellent job of slowly revealing bits and pieces of ‘truth’ – not so slowly as to get frustrating, but like an excellent meal of small plates: the next course arrives just at the right time, to match your appetite.
And really that’s all I want to say about the narrative, because as with LIAR this is a novel it’s best to approach utterly cold. It’s also like LIAR in its preoccupation with the idea of ‘truth’, although where for Larbalestier this was a question of deliberate truth-telling versus lying, Fowler is more interested in the question of truth and memory. Rosie acknowledges this complicating factor several time, and indeed confronts it head-on. When she’s recounting stories of her life as a five year old, from a distance of many years, she’s well aware of the problems inherent in such an undertaking. And indeed her memory of events is challenged several times by other members of her family, who provide a different perspective or more detail or entirely different versions of events – or recall events that she herself as forgotten. Rosie also muses on the perspective provided by various psychologists, often courtesy of her psychologist father, which also adds to the introspection inherent in writing a memoir.
This may make it sound like it’s a heavy, sombre book. It’s not at all. Fowler’s writing style makes it immensely engaging and page-turn-y – being required to eat dinner with my own family was quite irritating because it meant having to stop reading; seriously how unreasonable. The characters are complex and the story is tantalising and – why haven’t you read it yet?