We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
Karen Joy Fowler
Starting a story in the middle is a confusing thing to do; both for the person telling the tale and certainly for the person hearing it for the first time. It requires an immediate concentration of the mind, with an adroitness of imagination to keep up with an explanation of something where you have no idea of context. Then, half way through the tale, the penny drops and everything makes sense. So it is with this story.
We are told at the beginning that the story is not starting at the start, so a certain amount of readiness helps move the story along. However, there is an equal amount of head scratching as you try and keep up. Then, half way down a page, a good way into the book, a single sentence, almost as an aside, makes all that has gone before make logical, reasonable, and above all, understandable. I can imagine audible calls of ‘ahhh’ around the reading rooms of the world as we all reach this point. After that, it should become a straight forward tale. But it isn’t as it tackles a subject that is certainly new to me and a first for the shortlist of the ‘Man Booker’ prize for literature. There is no spoiler in this blog, so I’ll not speak of that revelation but it will become a source of familiarity to lots of English readers of a certain age.
Once the ‘cat is out of the bag’, a different type of interest is invoked, an interest in how the conclusion is reached, if indeed there is a conclusion. Was it a satisfactory end? I don’t think so, but then I’m not sure such an end could ever be suitably imagined. That is, if it all came from the author’s imagination in the first place. There is an authoritative manner in which the prose is carried forward that suggests more than an imaginative mind; an element of experience in the subject comes through. Either that or a very fertile mind that makes me want to read more from this splendid author.
The book itself is a page turner; well written, at a pace to keep the reader wanting more. Considering the content, there is little political bias, which is a feat in itself. During the course of the tale, we learn to like and dislike each of the characters, and even the main protagonist, writing in the first person, puts herself up for us to judge. During the tale, I changed my mind about her several times, the only constant was that I was fully engaged with what she was trying to do now. Her history, along with other members of her family swing between selfish and caring, ending with...well, you will have to read it to discover what happens, why it happened, and everything in between.
I didn’t think I would enjoy it when I first picked it up, but it did make me late to bed two nights running, and that can only be a good thing. Well worth sticking with, I’ll listen out for your ‘ahhh’!