We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

This novel has a very unusual story. It’s pretty difficult to describe what happens without giving away some pretty massive spoilers and ruining the effect of the carefully ordered narration so I won’t try to give a synopsis, other than to say that Rosemary, the narrator of the story, recounts her family life but she doesn’t start at the beginning. This non-chronological narration is very intelligently written and deliberately crafted to challenge the way you perceive the other characters in the novel.

The first person narration is very personal, often directly addressing the reader which I sometimes I liked and other times I found a bit irritating as she frequently mentioned a memory or anecdote only to sidetrack to something else. However this deliberate avoidance works well for the novel as a whole and reflects one of the main themes in the novel: our memories of trauma and how we cope with them.

I enjoyed the psychological element and the focus and exploration of childhood brain development. It was interesting and I don’t think I have read a novel that approaches it in this way before (sorry for being kind of vague, I don’t want to spoil the surprise of this novel!) The subject of human development and behaviour is always fascinating and, as this novel points out, our ideas and theories about it are always changing.

Do unto others is an unnatural, inhuman behaviour … this, then, is the human tragedy – that the common humanity we share is fundamentally based on the denial of a common shared humanity.

The novel also creates a dialogue about animal rights which was also very thought-provoking and something which I haven’t come across in many other novels. It is also a subject which I don’t think is talked about very much in the UK media – I can’t recall any recent news articles about it – and I think this novel highlights how it can be purposefully hidden from the public but equally sometimes people prefer not to know about things they might find unpleasant. Sometimes we are told

the truth and nothing but the truth – but not the whole truth.

This novel was a good one because I’m still thinking about it even though it’s over a week and a half since I finished it. It is very well written and addresses some interesting themes. My only criticism of it (and it seems a very fussy thing to comment on) would be that sometimes it seems a little too constructed – the deliberate-ness of its structure sometimes detracted from my ability to connect with the story and its characters. However I still enjoyed it and its definitely worth a read.

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