We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An interesting premise but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I hoped I would.

– The novel is told from the perspective of Rosemary, a young girl in college who is struggling with repressed memories from her childhood. We learn that at the age of five Rosemary was sent away to her Grandparents and upon return her sister Fern had been taken away. A couple of chapters into the novel we discover that ‘Fern’ is not just a regular human sister but is in fact, a chimpanzee. As I didn’t know anything about the novel beforehand I was a little taken aback by this but I think if I had done a little research or read the blurb properly I wouldn’t have been so surprised.

– So when Rosemary was born her psychologist parents decided to get involved in a chimpanzee adoption scheme – this basically meant ‘Fern’ would grow up alongside their human daughter Rosemary and they would do various psychological experiments on them both to see how they socially and psychologically developed. This book is based in the 1970’s when experiments such as this were very popular and not seen as cruel to either the chimpanzee or the families involved.

– The premise of this novel really appealed to me and once I realised the story would be centred around animal rights this also peaked my interest – but unfortunately the delivery of the story just wasn’t quite right for me. There was a lot of focus on Rosemary’s long lost brother Lowell but their eventual reconciliation didn’t really have the impact I thought it would.

– Rosemary is portrayed as a very intelligent child, learning things above her age and endeavouring to impress the student psychologists that test her and Fern. I personally didn’t like Rosemary as a protagonist and found the tone of her narrative to be very condescending, especially reading through her perspective as an older teenager. I believe the intention of Fowler was to accentuate the idea that Rosemary was segregated because of the fact that she grew up with a chimp and had picked up the mannerisms of the chimp, which then effected the way she socially interacted with humans – this was how it appeared to me anyway! I think because of this I found it very hard to connect with Rosemary as the leading character.

– 3 out of 5 stars and I would recommend to anyone who has an interest in animal rights activism – and definitely to anyone interested in the scientific and psychological side of the experiments that ran throughout the 1970’s.


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