We are all completely besides ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler was one of the two books I received last week as a belated birthday present from a friend. It is always interesting when people are brave enough to buy you a book .. brave partly because it may reveal their opinion of you, because anything obvious you are liable to have already, because buying someone a book is an imposition on someone’s time which is possibly more arrogant than even the impostion on space of most gifts. Not something that can be displayed or worn when they visit and then quietly forgotten.
You may have gathered that I am nervous of giving books…yet some I love so much they must be shared and then I fear that their recipient will not love them as I do and so my love for one or the other will diminish as a consequence.
I don’t think my friend suffered such agonies and given that we have been friends since the first week of A level English Lit oh-so-many-years-ago, I think that friendship is safe. She hasn’t read either book herself so took a lucky dip. She chose well.
The other consequence of having a book bought for you is that you approach it as a blank canvas, free of preconceptions, no knowledge based on other works, biographical detail, reviewers’ opinions, even the blurb reading and page skimming done in bookshop or online pre-purchase. It is not often that I embark on a book so untainted: a long haul version of the primary readings we did at university. And this maybe was a good book to approach in innocence.
I do not want to spoil the story for others by revealing the mystery. It did tantalise me at least.. I thought I had an inkling having read “The memory keeper’s daughter”, though one of the hints didn’t fit but despite an A-level in psychology and recent media highlighting of comparable experiments I was taken by surprise.
It is a very cleverly written book, at first the knowingness of the first person narrator annoys but as the book progressed I realised the slight irritation induced by the narrator is the product of a remarkably deft handling of a character who struggles to make connections with other people,
This novel handles big issues with a light touch, identity, loyalty, memory and family as well as ethical issues which question man’s place on earth. This is a very timely and fascinating novel, moving but with a rich vein of humour that is never far from the service. Would be a really good book club choice.