Friday, 20 February 2015

Review: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Book: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

Author: Karen Joy Fowler

Pages: 310

I read it on: My Kindle

I read it in: 8 hours across a few days

Plot Summary: Meet the Cooke family. Our narrator is Rosemary Cooke. As a child, she never stopped talking; as a young woman, she has wrapped herself in silence: the silence of intentional forgetting, of protective cover. Something happened, something so awful she has buried it in the recesses of her mind.

Now her adored older brother is a fugitive, wanted by the FBI for domestic terrorism. And her once lively mother is a shell of her former self, her clever and imperious father now a distant, brooding man.

And Fern, Rosemary’s beloved sister, her accomplice in all their childhood mischief? Fern’s is a fate the family, in all their innocence, could never have imagined.

What I Liked: Quick list:
  • The premise of this book seemed really, really interesting. A family that's a shadow of its former self, a girl who is no longer as loquacious as she used to be, a brother who is a fugitive and, to top it all, a mysterious missing sister! I thought this book had all the elements of a family drama with the bonus of a mystery thrown in.
  • *SPOILER* {I have to mention this here, else, this review will be a whole lotta nothing!} There is a lot of details about scientific and cosmetic testing on animals, which is all so cruel and stomach-turning that I had to stop and breathe and wipe away tears. So, why am I listing this under 'likes'?! Well, it is because all this information is very well researched and I am glad that Ms. Fowler included it in her book to show exactly how heartless and cruel human beings can really be! *END SPOILER* 
  • Fern's real identity was a nice twist. We don't get to see it upfront and it is revealed somewhere in the middle and it comes as a nice little surprise! 
  • I liked Rosemary's brother-Lowell. He is the only character in this book that I could connect to- his reactions to Fern going missing, his actions and why he becomes an eco terrorist all form a cogent narrative. 
  • I love, love, love how this book ends. I am a sucker for happy endings and I wanted some semblance of that in this story and I was so happy to get just that! Can't say any more, don't want to spoil the book. 

What I Didn't Like: Quite a few things! 
  • Rosemary was told to start her stories in the middle because she was a very talkative child! So, the author thought it would be oh-so-authentic and cute to write the book in the same goddamn way! Every narrative starts from the middle, goes to the end and then goes back to the beginning. Now, people may think of this as such an avant garde literary device, but it was just tiresome and annoying! I read a lot of complex literature and this was not complex or clever, it was just pointless and, for me, it dramatically reduced my engagement with the book! I was reading other books along with this one because this writing style (of starting in the middle) made this book so annoying for me! 
  • Rosemary was annoying! I didn't like her character as a child or a college student- too chirpy and weird in the former and too moody and such a follower in the latter. She does not grow on you, she keeps saying she misses Fern in the same way someone misses her limb but somehow that claim seems hollow and inauthentic! I think the connection between her and Fern could have been better built up during the course of the book. 
  • This book gets a lot of praise for capturing complex family dynamics, but, honestly, it is nothing one has not seen before! There is some amount of passive-aggressiveness and a lot of defeatism going on in the Cooke family- not very interesting, really. 
  • There were a bunch of annoying characters in this book, who brought nothing to the story at all! Rose's extended family, her new, highly erratic friend in college (so unmemorable that I have already forgotten her name!) and so on. None of them were easy to connect to and were just pointless! 
  • *SPOILER* A few things don't add up or make any sense! If Rosemary's parents were SO much in love with Fern that they were all reduced to shadows of themselves, then why did they not do anything to ensure she was safe and cared for?! They spent all their lives feeling sad, guilty or miserable about letting Fern go but no one apart from the brother really did anything to locate Fern or help her. So much for love! I think the suffering of the parents was over-done and seemed very fake. Bad character development and not creating enough of a backstory that makes Mr. and Mrs. Cooke's helplessness seem authentic. *END SPOILER* 

Rating: 2.5/5 
This book was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and I wonder why?! Actually, let me guess why.. it's quirky style of starting in the middle had something to do with it! I don't get the hype surrounding this book- it does not tell us anything new that we didn't learn from the new Planet of the Apes franchise and it is rather badly written! Your standards are falling, Man Booker! This is the simplest of narratives told in a manner that is cutesy at best and choppy at worst! UGH!

Not sure if I would recommend this book at all. However, if you don't mind all the elements that I didn't like about this book, then perhaps you ought to read it. 

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