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We are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

We are All Completely Beside Ourselves

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Sarah Broadhurst's view...

One of the Top 10 books in the Lovereading Readers’ Choice Book of the Year 2014.

One of our Books of the Year 2014.

Winner of the International Author of the of the Year at the Specsavers National Book Awards 2014.

The effects on a family of a young sister who disappears. It is a good third of the way through the book before you find out what it’s all about and I do hope you don’t know when you start for it will reduce the shock element, suffice to say that if you don’t see it coming then it really does hit you in the stomach. After the unexpected revelation the tale becomes very sad, very powerful and very thought-provoking. Most impressive and highly recommended.

Shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize 2014.

July 2014 MEGA Book of the Month.

If you like Karen Joy Fowler you might also like to read books by Eva Rice, Elizabeth Noble and Paula Cocozza.

Who is Sarah Broadhurst

The Good Book Guide logo The Good Book Guide Review. Rosemary Cooke was five years old when her sister disappeared from her life. Sent to stay with her grandparents while her mother was ill, Rosemary returned home to find that Fern, her ‘other half’, her constant companion, was gone. Some time later, her brother Lowell took off, never to return, and it turns out that those two events are directly connected. Now at college, Rosemary starts to discover what really happened in her early childhood when her father’s work dominated and affected their family life in ways far beyond the norm, and as her story continues into adulthood, it’s a painful tale she has to tell A smart, sharply focused study of what it means to be human, nature versus nurture, sibling rivalry, and ethical dilemmas, this novel – based on actual events – has passages that do not make comfortable reading, but it provides much food for thought or book group discussion.
~ Karen Howlett

Reader Reviews

In addition to our Lovereading expert opinion some of our Reader Review Panel were also lucky enough to read and review this title.

  • Maggie Crane - 'This book is so totally different that it is amazing!' Read full review >
  • Sophia Ufton - 'Wow, this book was just amazing. I have never enjoyed a book as much as this in such a long time... it certainly hooked me right until the last page.' Read full review >
  • Kristy West - 'A great holiday read about families, coming of age and the power of change.' Read full review >
  • Rachael Anderson - 'A thought provoking, complex novel which explores themes of loss and grief within an unusual family structure.' Read full review >
  • Sarah Harper - 'With a twist I would never have expected, this is an exceptional book with an unexpected theme....  Thought provoking, moving and very, very different. I loved it.' Read full review >
  • Alison Burns - 'This is fundamentally a story about a dysfunctional family, but it's also unique and unlike any other dysfunctional family story. The story is interesting and ultimately engrossing...' Read full review >
  • Hilary Nuth - 'A thought-provoking book! This was an intelligent and emotional story to read. What an unusual concept for a story!' Read full review >
  • Hannah Brittlebank - 'An intelligently written, completely original, thought provoking and very compelling read. Recommended.' Read full review >
  • Anne Cater - 'The themes of grief and loss are strong throughout this novel, and are expressed very well, but for me, the story was too disjointed and at times a little stiff for me to fully immerse myself into.' Read full review >
  • Sue Broom - 'This is the story of an ordinary family in an extraordinary situation.  Cleverly done and terrific writing.' Read full review >
  • Linda Birt - 'I have nothing but praise for this novel, the ending was sad and joyous at the  same time and made you think what a family can consist of.' Read full review >
  • Phylippa Smithson - 'Goodness, Fowler does not prepare the reader for what she uncovers in her story – totally unexpected, totally incredibly and a very unique proposition.' Read full review >
  • Kerry Bridges - 'I will say "if you like a juicy crime novel - this is not it.  If, on the other hand, you like a human interest story, read this".' Read full review >
  • Emma Caddick - 'A very distinctive and memorable tale, I will remember this book for a long, long time.' Read full review >
  • Vanessa Panter - 'Not the book you may expect, but rewarding and thought provoking.' Read full review >
  • Gavin Dimmock - 'Intriguing tale about Rosemary, her family and how her siblings left her life.' Read full review >
  • Nicola Cooper - 'Very funny for the majority although often sad but describes well the fall in and outs of relationships, commitment and love!' Read full review >


We are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Rosemary's young, just at college, and she's decided not to tell anyone a thing about her family. So we're not going to tell you too much either: you'll have to find out for yourselves, round about page 77, what it is that makes her unhappy family unlike any other.

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. There's something unique about Rosemary's sister, Fern. And it was this decision, made by her parents, to give Rosemary a sister like no other, that began all of Rosemary's trouble. So now she's telling her story: full of hilarious asides and brilliantly spiky lines, it's a looping narrative that begins towards the end, and then goes back to the beginning. Twice. It's funny, clever, intimate, honest, analytical and swirling with ideas that will come back to bite you. We hope you enjoy it, and if, when you're telling a friend about it, you do decide to spill the beans about Fern - it's pretty hard to resist - don't worry. One of the few studies Rosemary doesn't quote says that spoilers actually enhance reading.


'A novel so readably juicy and surreptitiously smart, it deserves all the attention it can get ... [Its] fresh diction and madcap plot bend the tone toward comedy, but it never mislays its solemn raison d'etre. Monkeyshines aside, this is a story of Everyfamily in which loss engraves relationships, truth is a soulful stalker and coming-of-age means facing down the mirror, recognizing the shape-shifting notion of self' -- Barbara Kingsolver, New York Times Book Review

'We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is a dark cautionary tale hanging out, incognito-style, in what at first seems a traditional family narrative. It is anything but. This novel is deliciously jaunty in tone and disturbing in material. Karen Joy Fowler tells the story of how one animal-the animal of man-can simultaneously destroy and expand our notion of what is possible' -- Alice Sebold

'No contemporary writer creates characters more appealing, or examines them with greater acuity and forgiveness, than she does' -- Michael Chabon

'Fowler has given us the gift of a splendid novel. Not only is the story fascinating, moving, and beautifully written, but also it ripples with humor; its quirky characters include a puppet named Madame Defarge and a Seinfeldian assortment of apartment dwellers. Layered with a huge moral compass and enormous humanity, this portrait of a family one-fifth simian will, nevertheless, touch and delight every human' Boston Globe

'Hinges upon Rosemary's sharp voice, which at its best includes funny, self-aware asides such as an early reference to a character at a holiday dinner where she flippantly advises the reader, Don't get attached to him; he's not really part of this story' LA Times

'We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is that rare thing, a comic novel that wrestles seriously with serious moral questions ... Fowler knows how to make her story funny and sad and disturbing and revelatory by erecting a space in which her reader is allowed to feel all of that for herself Salon So thought provoking on the topic of animal rights that it could alter your future decisions as a consumer. I don't want to say much about the plot of the book ... except to compare it to Ann Patchett's State of Wonder in terms of weaving a larger story of radical, scientific experimentation into a very personal woman's narrative' MSN

'Rosemary's voice is achingly memorable, and Fowler's intelligent discourse on science vs. compassion reshapes the traditional family novel into something more universally relevant... This brave, bold, shattering novel reminds us what it means to be human, in the best and worst sense' Miami Herald

'Halfway through Karen Joy Fowler's enthralling novel We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, I was sort of beside myself, too, with that electric thrill of discovering a great book. I wanted to stay up all night to finish it, but I also wanted to stop and call all my book-loving friends immediately and blurt, You have to read this book!' Cleveland Plain Dealer

'[A]n unsettling, emotionally complex story that plumbs the mystery of our strange relationship with the animal kingdom - relatives included' -- Ron Charles Washington Post

'Karen Joy Fowler has written the book she's always had in her to write. With all the quiet strangeness of her amazing Sarah Canary, and all the breezy wit and skill of her beloved Jane Austen Book Club, and a new, urgent gravity, she has told the story of an American family. An unusual family-but aren't all families unusual? A very American, an only-in-America family-and yet an everywhere family, whose children, parents, siblings, love one another very much, and damage one another badly. Does the love survive the damage? Will human beings survive the damage they do to the world they love so much? This is a strong, deep, sweet novel' -- Ursula K Le Guin

'It's been years since I've felt so passionate about a book. When I finished at 3 a.m., I wept, then I woke up the next morning, reread the ending, and cried all over again' -- Ruth Ozecki

About the Author

Karen Joy Fowler

Karen Joy Fowler is the author of six novels and three short story collections. The Jane Austen Book Club spent thirteen weeks on the New York Times bestsellers list and was a New York Times Notable Book. Fowler’s previous novel, Sister Noon, was a finalist for the 2001 PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction. Her debut novel, Sarah Canary, was a New York Times Notable Book, as was her second novel, The Sweetheart Season. In addition, Sarah Canary won the Commonwealth medal for best first novel by a Californian, and was listed for the Irish Times International Fiction Prize as well as the Bay Area Book Reviewers Prize. Fowler’s short story collection Black Glass won the World Fantasy Award in 1999, and her collection What I Didn’t See won the World Fantasy Award in 2011. Fowler and her husband, who have two grown children and five grandchildren, live in Santa Cruz, California.

She is the co-founder of the James Tiptree, Jr. Award and the current president of theClarion Foundation (also known as Clarion San Diego).

Author Photo © Brett Hall

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Book Info

Publication date

19th June 2014


Karen Joy Fowler

More books by Karen Joy Fowler
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Author's Website


Serpent's Tail an imprint of Profile Books Ltd


336 pages


Family Drama
All Shortlists and Winners
Books of the Month
Literary Fiction
Reading Groups
Relationship Stories
eBook Favourites

Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)
Readers Guide



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