Karen Joy Fowler’s latest book, We Are All Completely Besides Ourselves (a title I routinely forgot, even while I was reading it), is an easy, compelling read that is somehow breaking the illusion that ‘award’ books have to be literary tomes. See, We Are All Completely Besides Ourselves is up for the 2014 Man Booker Prize, a prize that is considered one of the very best that an author can win.
For me, when I think of the Man Booker Prize, I think of Hilary Mantel and Wolf Hall. This is not a compliment to the Man Booker Prize. Sure, I have also enjoyed Life of Pi, which won the award a few years ago, but both aren’t exactly ‘light reading’. So I was pleasantly surprised when this quirky, off-beat novel, which I had randomly decided to pick up at the bookstore, was in the running for such a prestigious award. Quirky, off-beat novels for the win!
I should point out that I haven’t actually READ any of the other books that are nominated, so my opinion may be slightly biased, but really, has that ever stopped me judging before?
We Are All Completely Besides Ourselves is a bit of a mystery: Rosemary has a story to tell, but she’s going to start in the middle. Rosemary used to be an outgoing and outspoken child; now, she has to be prompted to speak. So what was it that made her change so completely? Is it her missing brother, who is wanted by the FBI? Is it her painful relationship with her father, whom she loathes to spend time with? Or is it her sister, Fern, who the family refuses to speak about, but explains so much about Rosemary’s upbringing?
To give away any more of the plot would be to give away one of the biggest twists in the story (although, I will admit, it seems pretty obvious after you’ve been told). Though We Are All Completely Besides Ourselves (shortened to WAACBO, because I’m lazy and I quite like how WAACBO sounds) reads like a light-hearted comedy, it unfolds almost like a mystery, which brilliantly keeps the reader wanting more. Who is Fern? Where is she? What happened in Rosemary’s childhood? Needless to say, this is a page-turner, and if you have the time, then you will very quickly demolish this book like I did.
The charm in WAACBO is its off-beat nature: the storyline isn’t linear, but that only adds to its uniqueness; Rosemary, at times, isn’t the most lovable protagonist, but you are amused by her quirk; and though the crescendo of the story doesn’t happen at the end, you’re still compelled to read right through to the last page. And this is all thanks to Fowler’s ability to write a quite confronting story in a way that is light-hearted and amusing. What could easily have run out of her control, become jumbled, or quite honestly, turn into an absolute tear-jerker, is a warm, friendly novel that invites you in to join in on the fun.
In a way, WAACBO, is a book of juxtapositions: it is up for a prestigious literary award, yet it would be accessible to almost any reader; it is an easy page-turner, yet the non-linear plot line is exceedingly complex; it follows a deeply troubled protagonist with a gut-wrenching past, yet it is light and witty. The result? A wonderful read that shows that a novel doesn’t have to be ‘hard to read’ or high literature to be a great book. Regardless of whether it wins the Booker Prize, I would highly recommend this book. Perfect for a lazy weekend or a trip to the beach, We Are All Completely Besides Ourselves, will not disappoint.
Just make sure to stay away from any spoilers.
Have you read We Are All Completely Besides Ourselves? Have you heard of Karen Joy Fowler? Will you read any of the other nominations for the Man Booker Prize? Let me know!