Just as I was about to start reading We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, I sat down to watch the ABC’s Book Club show on iView. They were programmed to talk about the novel and though I was a little weary of finding out too much, I sat down anyway. But right from the start they warned viewers of imminent spoilers - nothing the author hasn’t talked about in interviews, but a spoiler nonetheless. I turned the show off and walked away. Turns out the ‘spoiler’ happens quite early on - page 77 to be precise - so I’m still a little unclear as to whether it’s a spoiler or just a defining plot twist. I’d somehow shielded myself from it and my very dear friend Lexi who leant me this book didn’t tell me beforehand. Whether blissfully ignorant or just stupid, I didn’t see it coming. It was the first time in a long time that a book has shocked me and I loved it. So I don’t want to spoil it for those of you who are yet to read it. I’m still going to talk about the book, but I won’t give it away. Because I really think you should read it.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is at it’s heart a novel about a highly dysfunctional family. It’s told from the perspective of the youngest child Rosemary, moving between stages of the story in a non-linear but well guided and structured manner. Without giving too much away but to give you an idea, the book explores the trauma faced by a family when the father - a psychologist - brings his work home.
What drew me in to We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, despite the incredibly imaginative story, was the writing. There are some beautiful moments where the narrator echoes a child’s voice, wonderfully naive but formal, such as the phrase “When I draw Fern’s face, the crayon I use for her eyes is burnt sienna”. Despite the fact the author has structured the novel by jumping between different time periods, she manages to maintain the tone and voice of Rosemary. When Rosemary is in her early twenties at college, she maintains this beautiful naivety when describing a visit to a train station:
Airports and train stations are where you get to cry. I’d once gone to an airport for just that purpose.
Or, more jovially, when describing a brush with the police:
A woman with thin, peevish lips and shellacked, Republican hair came and took me to the bathroom. She waited outside the stall, listening to me pee and flush.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves explores some big topics and hits hard at times. But throughout it remains approachable and despite being a family full of flawed characters, they pulled me in and I sped through the novel, eager to know where Fowler would take them. The result is a stunning ending, beautifully paced. This was a wonderful novel, full of heartbreaking decisions and difficult characters, but told with heart, morality and humour. A real gem.
There’s a great scene in the novel where Rosemary walks into a restaurant in the middle of winter:
By the time I arrived at the restaurant, I had walked so much that evening that my feet ached all the way up to my knees. I was so cold my ears throbbed. It was a relief to come inside the little room where the candles were lit, the windows fogged with steam and breath.
This is often how it feels coming home from work during the cold stretch of winter. I spoke in my last post for Franny and Zooey (which you can read here) about my current preference for soups that are hearty without being too stodgy or heavy. Here is another great recipe from Green Kitchen Stories, this time a silky cauliflower and leek soup. As they say in their post, this soup has a beautifully thick and creamy consistency without needing to use potatoes, cream or other thickeners. Adding toasted nuts gives a wonderful textural contrast, again without needing any bread or extra carbohydrates to fill you up. Not having any almonds on hand, I toasted a handful of pepitas, which gave a wonderfully nutty flavour and a great colour contrast too. Another great bowl of winter comfort to curl up to in a small, foggy room.
Although it sounds somewhat macabre, I adore tales of dysfunctional families. Maybe it’s the dose of reality, maybe I’m just too cynical for my own good. But if you’re the same, you might be interested in these two lists from Flavorwire. First, ten classic stories of suburban ennui and second, wonderful books about unhappy marriages. Both feature one of my all-time favourite novels, Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road which if you’ve read and enjoyed We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves and you haven’t read: do so immediately.