K. J. Fowler’s has chosen a surprisingly long title for her book, I have to say, but a witty one. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves was the North London Book Club choice for October 2014, discussed in front a good meal and a glass of wine in West Hampstead.
The book, shortlisted for this year’s Manbooker Prize, was presented in most of the reviews as a family drama, which I have to confess was not very appealing to me. Most of the time, I tend to prefer fantasy, historical and weird over literary fiction. As I am going to explain soon, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves might have won my first reluctance towards literary fiction.
The story is about Rosemary’s family and how the relationship with her siblings have changed and shaped her. She starts her tale “in the middle”: she is now a student at UC Davies, struggling with her studies and with interpersonal relationship. We are told that she once spoke a lot, to the point she could be annoying to others, but now she is very reclusive and tries to talk about her family the least. When she meets Harlow, a boisterous drama major, a series of flashback are triggered, and we start understanding where her story started and, above all, where it it is going.
The plot construction is very lively and clever: the progression of the story and the flashbacks together feed the reader with small bites at a time, so that (s)he keeps feeling somehow tricked out of the complete context. The book is well written, and generally flows smoothly.
The only flaw I can find, and here I agree with my friends of the book club, is that Harlow is not a well developed character as she could be. I have come to think that her sole purpose was to bring Rosemary’s true personality on the surface during their first meeting. However, considering that she stays around for quite a long time, maybe something more could be said about her (like detailing a bit more the reason why she keeps lying about her family and her life), but I think I am just being overcritical here.
The story mainly revolves around family bonds, especially brotherhood and sisterhood: the most important events in Rosemary’s life are the disappearing of her sister Fern first, and of her brother next. These events have severe consequences in her family life, to the point that she represses some memories from that time. We Are All Completely Behind Ourselves is a beautiful story of self- (re)discovery and growth, which I warmly suggest to book lovers who like literary fiction and unexpected plot twists, even in apparently uncomplicated plots.
Because there is a great plot twist, but I am trying to write a spoiler-free review. Hence, read the book!