We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves


“Language does this to our memories—simplifies, solidifies, codifies, mummifies. An oft-told story is like a photograph in a family album; eventually, it replaces the moment it was meant to capture.”

“A provocative take on family love” writes Liz Jensen of The Guardian, and I can see no reason to disagree with this. Have you ever wondered what childhood would be like with the presence of a sibling who disappears before you can barely remember that she even existed? Can we, the ordinary part of the human race, with less-than-memorable upbringings, even begin to picture a life beginning in this way?

I would argue that we had no chance, but We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves provides such an insight into the complications and hilarities of an eccentric upbringing, that I find myself beginning to disagree. As Fowler aptly puts it, “you know how everything seems so normal when you’re growing up…and then comes this moment when you realise your whole family is nuts?”

Perhaps the cleverest part of Fowler’s masterpiece is that we don’t even know who this mysterious sibling is until page 77. I had my fair share of guesses: disabled child, rebellious teenager, the list goes on. But nothing could prepare me for the bombshell that hit when it was revealed that Fern (the sibling), was a chimpanzee (of course), and that she was part of a psychological experiment conducted by the father.

Let’s start at the beginning now. Meet Rosemary, a chatterbox, who is sent away to her grandparents. Upon her return, her beloved sister has gone missing- with no explanation.  Before we know it, Lowell, the rebellious brother has fled as well. The rest of the book follows Rosemary in her adult life, now withdrawn into herself, scarred by the events of her childhood. We watch as she develops a close relationship with Harlow, a manic fellow student, and sees the return of her beloved brother. The book intermittently skips back to the details of Fern’s disappearance, and we soon discover why Fern was sent away.

Fowler explores the controversial themes of animal rights, sibling relationships, and parental duty with such light hearted humour that We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves ceases to become a lecture on parental upbringing, but more a hilarious taste of a broken, yet oddly lovable family. As such, I would fully recommend this to all those with an eccentric sense of humour.

The secret to a good life is to bring your A game into everything you do. Even if all you’re doing is taking out the garbage, you do that with excellence”

Read it on Palatinate here. 


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