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We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves - Book of the Month

by Karen Joy Fowler

Completely beside themselves is the 'strangely illuminating phrase' Rosemary's mother uses about her daughters playing in the snow. Illuminating because, apart from describing their uncontrollable excitement, it also throws light on the extraordinary bond which can exist between sisters, and in this instance, between Rosemary and Fern. It is part of the complexity of the sibling relationship that close sisters can grow up seeing the other as a mirror, whereby they measure, judge and appraise themselves. And, despite their rivalry for parental attention and their place within the family, they sustain a love which can withstand a measure of hurt and betrayal which would destroy most other bonds of affection. Such is the case of Rosemary and Fern, raised in the mid seventies near Bloomington, Indiana.

Rosemary tells her story and, for reasons that will become apparent, starts in the middle. As a student in California, she looks back over her life and the loss of her sister and, later, of her brother. She tries to understand how a confident, garrulous little girl grew up to be an unhappy, socially awkward, twenty-two-year-old and the effect which losing both her siblings had on her. Most of all, she tries to establish the veracity of her memories and begins to examine the part she played in the disappearance of Fern.

This is my favourite read of 2014. Short-listed for the Man Booker Prize, it is a wonderful novel, thought-provoking, challenging and moving. If you are lucky enough to be part of a book group, you will want to read it together to give you a chance to discuss it.

Read our interview with Karen Joy Fowler, but we would recommend reading the novel first.

Published by Serpent's Tail, 336pp.

Clare Chandler

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