“We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves” by Karen Joy Fowler

SS_CompletelyBesideOurselvesThis 2013 novel was short-listed for the 2014 Man Booker Prize. Its story is difficult to discuss without giving away a major plot surprise but fortunately the website for Man Booker has offered a carefully crafted taster:

As a child, Rosemary used to talk all the time. Now she has just started college and barely talks at all. And she definitely doesn’t talk about her family. Rosemary is now an only child, but she used to have a sister the same age as her, and an older brother. Both are now gone – vanished from her life. But there’s something unique about Rosemary’s sister, Fern. So now she’s telling her story; a looping narrative that begins towards the end, and then goes back to the beginning. Twice.

We read this in 2015 and ten people attended the October meeting to discuss the book, which elicited a wide variety of responses . Some people really enjoyed the novel with two declaring it to be the best book they’d read this year (and the best they’d read last year as well). Several were reading it for the second time and found it as enjoyable (or more) on second reading. The book was also described as funny and heartbreaking.

Nearly everyone thought that the book’s premise was an interesting idea. However, one reader lost interest when he felt that he was reading a “lecture” and others thought it wasn’t sustainable over a whole novel and might have been better as a short story.

Reading the novel certainly led to an interesting and animated discussion. It was perhaps a “marmite” book as individual scores were spread out from a low of 3.5 all the way up to 10 and with a pretty even spread across the whole of that range. The overall average was 7.2, based on 13 readers.
The author’s website includes a Q&A with Karen Joy Fowler about the book.
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