Review by M
Shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize 2014; winner of the 2014 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction
Some novels resonate closely with me for various reasons, and this novel is one of them. As a whole, it engulfed me. Despite some annoying elements, I loved it and won’t be surprised if it stays for a very long time on my ‘list of ‘favourite’ novels.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is a novel about family relationships (and their difficulties), but it specifically explores questions about our humanity, our being, and ethical choices. The way it does this is directly via the plot (which I think is unusual and refreshing) but I’m not saying much more on this because of spoilers.
Told in the first person by Pearl, she starts her story in the middle when she is making her way through university. She speaks directly to her readership as she takes them back and forth as she finds the courage to tell the beginning and some of the end of what happened to the brother and sister who left her family when she was just a young girl.
Fowler likes to keep her reader guessing but thankfully it is not too long before she introduces the big twist which puts the plot onto a level that goes beyond the everyday of ‘ordinary’ family lives. I’d suggest steering clear of reviews on this novel if you want to savour the impact of the twist when you read the novel. It really put me completely beside myself.
This is a wrenching and thoughtful read, delivered mostly with a light tone that works surprising well (given the subject matter). The annoying elements, for me, were: the character of Harlow (I could have done without her though I see how she makes Pearl think about her own ‘essential’ being); a bit too much tension; and I’d have preferred some of Pearl’s research to have been included as an appendix.
I suspect fans of Margaret Atwood (especially perhaps Cat’s Eye), Ann Patchett and Maggie O’Farrell will thoroughly enjoy this novel. Highly, highly recommended and definitely one to be discussed - but not online for fear of spoilers.
Publication details: 2014, Serpent’s Tale, London, paperback
This edition: gift from Little M