RAD Book Club review: We are All Completely Beside Ourselves

06 Aug 2015

Our first meeting focused on ‘We are All Completely Beside Ourselves’ by Karen Joy Fowler.

We began by discussing our overall impressions about the book.

The majority of us agreed that we probably wouldn’t read it again because “it wasn’t very plot driven” but it was more enjoyable as a think piece / discussion for book club. Nobody managed to guess the twist that was revealed on page 77; however a couple of members did come close!

A main area of focus was unreliability of the narrator. Some of us felt that this unreliability made the reader feel disconnected and uncaring towards the characters. We discussed how the disjointed nature of the narration was a feature of the novel and could be reflecting Rosemary’s state of mind, although it did seem to interfere with the reading experience for some. As one member commented, “If the monkey had got out and killed everyone at the end, I couldn’t have cared less!”

Her mother’s journals and their importance throughout the book were also discussed. We felt that their loss and eventual reunion with Rosemary act as a metaphor for her chaotic thought pattern and narrative. They also reflect the memories of her life-story and ultimately reveal how unreliable her memory is as Fern’s “disappearance” ends up being linked to her actions as well as her parents’ actions.

The family dynamics were also highlighted. We mentioned Rosemary’s mother, and how in some respects as the novel progressed we did feel sorry for her regarding Fern’s removal, but ultimately she still had to shoulder some of the blame.

Our closing comments focused on the title, and why Fowler had used that particular phrase. There were lots of different ideas ranging from the extreme emotions that were felt throughout the book by Rosemary to the idea of monkeys literally being beside us in the evolutionary timeline.

Library and Archive Manager, Rebecca Blackbourn, was invited onto Radio 4’s Bookclub programme to ask Karen Joy Fowler about her novel, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, because it was the first book that RAD Book Club read together back in 2015. Rebecca thoroughly enjoyed being part of the show and talking to the author and other readers over Zoom. The episode of Bookclub is available at https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m00161rh .