Book 21 – We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Memories of 70s TV newsreels confirming that some towns in America were introducing chimpanzees into the family unit, will stick in the minds of those around then to believe it. Beside OurselvesRosemary takes you on her journey and the loss of her family through various means, as she tries to live a normal life after such an interesting childhood full of secrets and disappointments. Karen Joy Fowler excels in creating a world that you will not leave until the last page has been read.

I have just finished reading “We Are Completely Beside Ourselves” and the first thing I will say about the book is that it has greatly increased my vocabulary.  I had to keep stopping and looking up words like oneiric, estrus, stereotaxic and mimesis, etc.
I enjoyed the book in a peculiar sort of way but I found the author always managed to make me feel as if I was only getting half the picture.  She very cleverly (I’m sure she wanted to render us as unsure as Rosemary herself), though rather irritatingly at times, left me with only vague understanding.
I don’t know why but I had the strong feeling that Rosemary in the first few pages was male and, when eventually but quite soon, it became apparent he was a she, I still found it difficult to make the transition.  Whereas when I realised that Fern, Rosemary’s sister, was a chimp I accepted it as making absolute sense.
It came across to me very strongly that the family seemed not to function as a “normal” family group but that Fern had become the centre of the group, influencing all around her and most of all Rosemary, so much so that she couldn’t ever live an “ordinary” life thereafter, being in her own mind part primate.  Her brother’s whole life purpose was influenced by Fern in that he spent the rest of his life after Fern was taken away, protesting against animal experimentation.  Yet Fern was only part of their family group for 5 years!  After their separation Rosemary endured a lifelong feeling of being a misfit as it appeared that Fern did too as she didn’t fit into the norm for a female member of the chimp group but took control and became the superior group leader over the dominant male, totally out of character to normal chimp behaviour.
In all, the book was a very complicated “start in the middle” story that achieved the author’s goal, I believe, of rendering the reader unsure where they would be going next and cementing the idea that no good comes from messing with nature and one’s natural environment. 3.5/5

Every so often a book comes along and surprises you. This is definitely one of those books. Hooked from the very beginning, I didn’t guess the surprise until it was written out mid-way through the book. The whole story took on a completely different meaning from them on. Amused and saddened by the life the MC has led and is still trying to live just added to the fascinating story and made me want to read more and more. Life has a way of throwing things at you when you’re young, things you don’t really understand that can affect you throughout your adult life. It really made me stop and think. A dangerous past-time for some but a necessary one to understand the world we live in. 4/5

TOTAL SCORE: 24.25/35


About Great Big Jar

Life is like a box of chocolates - well, it would be but I ate them all! I am a writer of children's stories and rhymes. I am currently testing the waters with two new stories for 8+ and 11+ readers - a new exciting genre to sink my teeth into. Drop by and say hello
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