Skip to main content

Review: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Reviewed by Katyana Rocker-Cook

This is a novel that begins in the middle of the story, and with full understanding that there can be no moving forwards, without first going back. Rosemary Cooke is the youngest of three children, a brother and a closer-in-age sister whom she spent her childhood particularly close to. But one day age five, her sister Fern abruptly disappears. Later, when she is eleven, her brother similarly vanishes from her life.

Fowler’s novel is a masterfully crafted tale of the love between siblings, and is at once both touching and painfully moving. The skill alone in weaving narratives from a variety of points in Rosemary’s life makes the book a joy to read, but the real heart is in the interactions and memories of the sisters. Rosemary almost makes it clear that she doesn’t want to be your favourite character; openly questioning her choices and personality, even during her childhood years. No character is spared however, and this gives a very honest and raw view of human relationships, and the way in which no individual is perfect, however much you may love them.

The crossed timelines within the narrative make for a particularly gripping read, as details about Rosemary’s life and experiences are revealed in a controlled and measured way; mirroring the feeling of recollecting the past. The final pages a masterclass in storytelling, simultaneously achieving an open-ended conclusion with a sense of a long awaited resolution. The issues and experiences presented present a universal story that I believe would appeal to any reader; but perhaps most particularly those with siblings. As a sibling to three sisters myself, I was unbearably moved by the end of the novel, and found myself making connections to my own relationships.

A tale both traumatizing and full of hope, Fowler’s novel is extremely accomplished, and upon finishing it you will want to pick it straight back up and start all over again.

Read more shortlist reviews