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Jan 2015 by PCI College

Bite-Sized Book Review: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

PCI College lecturer Jade Mullen tries to take a break from psychological reading with 'We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves' and finds herself drawn into a novel of fiction, but definitely not escapism!

Over the Christmas break I decided to switch off from reading anything related to Psychology or Psychotherapy and engage in a bit of fiction instead. I found myself drawn to this book 'We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves' which tells the story of Rosemary, a college student, who is eager to lift the lid on some family secrets that have long been buried, namely the disappearance of her older brother and her twin sister.

There is not a whole lot else I can say regarding this part of the plot without giving it away completely but lets just say this book took a twist that I was not expecting. Less than a third of the way into the book I began to realise that this was not quite the escapist book I was hoping for. Rosemary is the daughter of an eminent psychologist and Rosemary discovers that much of her childhood was an experiment. The book focuses on psychological theories of conditioning, mirroring, language development, communication and attachment – all applied to this fictional tale of missing persons. I had to ask myself what drew me to such a book, with no mention of the above in the blurb, while I was looking for an escape from exactly these topics? I am still working on that answer!

One experiment that resonates with me from this book is when Rosemary’s father requests that she do an experiment on her college lecturers where by she nodded every time they looked in her direction. The rationale behind this was that it would foster an illusion on behalf of the lecturer that Rosemary was a conscientious and engaged student. Upon reflection, Rosemary realised the real motive behind her father’s request was that as a result of this engagement with the lecturer, they would remember her out of a class of over 100 and in turn any absence would be duly noted. This has made me reflect upon the ‘nodding’ student in the classroom!

This book is different. Although it is interesting and engaging as a work of fiction, escapism it is not!

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2014 / Winner of the 2014 PEN / Faulkner Award / One of the New York Times Book Review's 100 Notable Books of 2013 and named by The Christian Science Monitor as one of the top 15 works of fiction

Jade Mullen (January 2015)
PCI College Lecturer

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