Wednesday, July 10, 2013

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler feels more like a memoir than any other first-person novel that I've encountered so far. 22-year-old Rosemary Cooke, a student attending the University of California at Davis, is the compelling narrator.

Rosemary confesses that she always talked too much. When she was five: "I remember Mr Bechler asking me if I was maybe in training for the talking Olympics. I was gold-medal material, he said."

She has been trained to cut out much of what she wants to say, to choose one thing out of three, and so she begins her tale in the middle.

"In 1996, ten years had passed since I'd last seen my brother, seventeen since my sister disappeared. The middle of my story is all about their absence, though if I hadn't told you that, you might not have known."

It takes Rosemary a long time to get around to telling us that her sister Fern was a chimpanzee, and that the pair of them were studied intensely during their early childhood. I don't feel like I'm spoiling the plot, because this fact is revealed on the cover blurb. It's also what drew me to read this book in the first place.

Fowler deftly tackles issues like family dynamics, the vagaries of memory, and animal welfare. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is an entertaining and highly original story with wonderful characters and a fascinating premise.

I listened to the Penguin audiobook [9 hours] narrated by Orlagh Cassidy.

Readalikes: Half Brother (Kenneth Oppel); All Over Creation (Ruth Ozeki) and pretty much anything by Barbara Kingsolver.

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