The University of Brighton is proud to be working in partnership with the Man Booker Prize Foundation to bring contemporary literature to students and staff. This year, our Big Read novel was the incredible We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler.
As part of Big Read 2016, students and staff at the University of Brighton were given a free copy of the book and invited to hear Karen talk about how she created such a story that is all at once heart breaking, thought provoking, funny and surprising. Karen was a brilliant guest with fantastic practical advice and generous insights into her creative process. She encouraged the audience to produce work that might 'reduce the empathy deficit' and use their writing to contribute to a kinder and more humane world. She spoke about her own writing pleasures and pains and advised the students to be resilient in their response to criticism and to believe in their writing and the stories that matter to them. Students and staff were full of enthusiasm for her inspiring answers and we are thrilled that Karen has agreed to return to Brighton when she has completed her next book. In We Are Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen reminds us what, at best, literature has the power to do. It can move and delight us, it can inform and enrich us, it can make us challenge the way we are and how we might hope to be. We are extremely grateful to Man Booker and especially to Karen for working with the University of Brighton and providing us all with such a rich and inspiring Big Read.
About the book
In 1970s Indiana, narrator-heroine Rosemary is separated from her beloved "twin" sister, Fern, and sent, aged five, for a week's visit to her grandparents. "I knew the winds of doom when they blew," Rosemary recalls. She senses that she has committed a heinous crime, for which her punishment is expulsion from the bosom of the family. But no. On her return, it is the thrill-seeking Fern who has been dispatched – never to be seen again. There are no explanations.
Soon afterwards, Rosemary's stormy teenage brother Lowell absconds, also without discussion, leaving her bereft again. When he commits a series of crimes in the name of animal rights and becomes a fugitive from the FBI, a second hole is blasted in the already shaken family. More silence follows and little motormouth Rosemary, recognising a double taboo when she sees one, packs away her enthusiastically learned vocabulary and becomes an almost silent child. In time, she will be left with only a baffling series of sibling memories, recounted through caustic, guilt-tinged flashbacks. So far, so normal-ish. But "weird on stilts" lies just over the horizon…
In a startling twist, deftly held back to page 77, we learn why the family is so different to any other. *
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves resonates with Rosemary's grief for her missing alter ego and sister, and for the adored Lowell, who communicates with the family only through the occasional cryptic postcard.
* We hope you will try not to spill the beans about the twist, but if you do - it's pretty hard to resist - don't worry. One of the few studies Rosemary doesn't quote says that spoilers actually enhance reading.About the author
Karen Joy Fowler is the author of six novels and three short story collections. The Jane Austen Book Club spent thirteen weeks on the New York Times bestsellers list and was a New York Times Notable Book. Fowler's previous novel, Sister Noon, was a finalist for the 2001 PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction. Her debut novel, Sarah Canary, was a New York Times Notable Book, as was her second novel, The Sweetheart Season. Fowler's short story collection Black Glass won the World Fantasy Award in 1999, and her collection What I Didn't See won the World Fantasy Award in 2011. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves won the 2014 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. Fowler and her husband, who have two grown children and five grandchildren, live in Santa Cruz, California.
A novel so readably juicy and surreptitiously smart, it deserves all the attention it can get ... [Its] fresh diction and madcap plot bend the tone toward comedy, but it never mislays its solemn raison d'être.” - Barbara Kingsolver, New York Times Book Review
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is a dark cautionary tale hanging out, incognito-style, in what at first seems a traditional family narrative. It is anything but. This novel is deliciously jaunty in tone and disturbing in material.” - Alice Sebold
‘Many a novel has devoted itself to exploring variations of Larkin's lament about what mums and dads do to their kids. But if any other book has done it as exhilaratingly as the achingly funny, deeply serious heart-breaker that is Fowler's 10th novel, and made it ring true for the whole of mankind, I've yet to read it. This is a moral comedy to shout about from the treetops. ‘- Liz Jensen in The Guardian
For further details on the Brighton Big Read contact: