Somehow, quite by accident I seem to have started the long read with the American entries. Today I finished the third. Karen Joy Fowler has written six novels and three collections of short stories, she has also won several prizes for her previous books. The book on the long-list is We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. KJF lives in California, which is relevant for to an English audience, for once having read this book one might want substitute the last two words in the title with: MAD!
Since I don’t want to have to put in any spoiler alerts, I shall merely say that there are some twists in this narrative that are quite breathtaking. There are clues and if you are a clue-spotter then you will have cracked the story right open from about the tenth page, if not you might get all the way to the fifth chapter.
The writing is pacey, ironic at times, quirky nearly all the time and a page turner…you simply have to know what happens; not next, because the story starts in the middle and swings wildly from middle to end to beginning, back to middle. But these time-warps are easy enough to follow and add to the quirkiness.
The characterisation is tremendously strong, the people leap off the page into your arms.
There is a strong message which runs throughout as an undercurrent, and bursts out suddenly towards the end; an unmistakeable whiff of anger, disgust and condemnation of the ways we behave in the pursuit of knowledge. This is a novel about the family as much as anything, but this family has a scientist/psychologist for a father – so all the children are under constant scrutiny, and any event or question becomes a lesson, this can probably be tiresome in the long run if you are a child of five, but you don’t half grow into a well-informed adult.
I loved this book and learned a lot from it, it will undoubtedly stay with me. I look forward hopefully to seeing it on the short list.