Today I’m reviewing We are all completely beside ourselves, a contemporary novel by Karen Joy Fowler, which deals with childhood, family, animal testing and memory.
It’s been a long time since I’ve given a book three stars. It’s such a sad rating – not good but not bad either, just okay enough to be kind of meh. So I wanna start this review with the things I didn’t like about this novel, and then finish on a positive note.
The main character is an annoying, spoiled liar. She is a grown woman who goes to college, and she’s the most irresponsible, obnoxious main character I’ve had to read about in a long time. She keeps making stupid decisions and she just walks through life like she’s Alice in Wonderland 2.0 – like she has no idea that her decisions have consequences. I mean, the book starts with her in a cafeteria, pointlessly throwing a glass to the ground in front of a police officer. And then when she’s arrested she’s just like oh my, what have I done? How silly! And she’s been in college for years, but she keeps not going to class or just not doing anything for her course, because she doesn’t care enough. Her parents want her to finish studying, so they keep paying for everything. That was so infuriating. I have no respect and no sympathy for someone who has the privilege to go to college and have everything paid for them and just throws that away. I understand that some people don’t want to study, and that’s fine, but make a fucking choice. Don’t just stay in college and throw away your parents’ money because you have nothing better to do.
All the other characters are annoying as well. There is this girl called Harlow who gets the main character in trouble all the time and breaks into her apartment like it’s no big deal, expecting her to be okay with it – and she doesn’t do anything about it! Whenever Harlow is in her apartment, she thinks that she doesn’t want her there, that it’s annoying that she eats her food and watches her TV like she belongs there. But she wants Harlow to like her, to be her friend, so she actually doesn’t say anything and just accepts it? Ugh, that made me so angry.
There’s also the apartment manager, who I think was supposed to be funny, but was also just really annoying. And Harlow’s boyfriend. And the main character’s brother (and her entire family, really). There’s not a single likable character in this story, except maybe her room mate, who we get to read about for like 5 minutes. Everyone in this story is terrible and I honestly felt like I was reading about a bunch of children in adult bodies. I think maybe that was the point of the story, to make everyone as obnoxious as possible, but it just completely ruined the book for me.
Now onto the actual plot. I found the story quite boring to be completely honest. There is a great twist, but it’s at the beginning of the book, and once you get used to this new way of looking at the story, it’s really not that exciting. The book is just full of childhood memories which mostly bored me, and so many of the thoughts and things the main character says are just pretentious. Also, I just can’t enjoy a story if every couple pages one of the characters decides to do something stupid and no one does anything about it.
Something I also found unsettling and annoying was the unreliability of the main character as a narrator. I’m pretty sure this was supposed to be interesting and exciting, but it just kept making me angry. The main character tells you a story and you believe it, and then a few chapters later she tells you that actually everything she told you was a lie and here’s what really happened. I did not like that. I kept feeling like the author was tricking me on purpose, I felt manipulated, and the whole thing just seemed unnecessary.
The ending of the book was not what I wanted, it felt very unsatisfying, and the whole book just let me down. I expected more and I expected something different.
But I did like some things about this novel, which is why I gave it three stars and not less. I already mentioned the twist at the beginning, but I want to repeat that it was really good. Maybe some people saw it coming, but as someone who had no idea about the stuff that scientists did in the US back in the 70s, I didn’t suspect a thing. I actually thought it was a joke at first, and I re-read the page about five times to make sure I hadn’t misread it. Unfortunately, while the twist itself was great, it’s kind of the reason the book let me down – I expected a story about family and sisters, I thought it was going to be a sort of mystery or thriller, looking for missing people or something, but it was completely different.
I also have to say that while it was not what I expected, I did enjoy the topic of the novel. It deals a lot with animal testing and morals in science, which I’m interested in as an animal lover and vegetarian. I just would have liked to know it was going to be the main topic before reading this book, because as a reader I do not like to be tricked. Which is why I’m telling you. I won’t reveal the twist, but I think you should know what kind of story you’re getting yourself into – I’m a mood reader, so if I’m in the mood for a thriller and get a contemporary about an annoying woman and her stupid family, that’s going to lower the rating. Which is exactly what happened.
The book was very informative and I learned a lot about psychology and science in general. The topic is definitely quite unique – I don’t know any other contemporary novel that deals with this kind of stuff. The writing was also really good, which helped in getting me through the last few chapters, which were honestly just extremely boring and, in my opinion, completely unnecessary.
In conclusion, this was not my kind of book, but I do know that a lot of people love it. It definitely brings up some important issues and the author writes beautifully. So if it does sound like your kind of novel, please do pick it up and let me know what you think.
‘Till next time and happy reading!