Saturday, 7 February 2015
WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY BESIDE OURSELVES
I have just finished reading Booker-shortlisted We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. Seemed to take me forever. Why is that? Because it is well-written or because its badly written? Because it has a serious purpose and I wanted to digest its message? The reviews on Amazon [over 1300 at time of writing] seem to be either five-star or one-star. I see Ruth Ozeki, definitely not one of my favourite writers, ‘helped out’ with the writing. Hmmm. This is what happens when you are an older author, like Karen Joy Fowler or like me as a matter of fact; you can bring your lifetimes experience to bear upon character and plot but if you haven’t got an English degree or you got your degree forty-odd years ago, the quality of the writing isn’t going to be the same as someone straight out of Cambridge with a first in English is likely to be. Enter Ruth. I’ll bet it was really hard to find an agent and publisher for this. ‘Great story Karen but you’ll need up your game on the actual writing’. Also, it very nearly falls into that category called Misery Fiction, another no-no for agents and publishers who are really, endlessly, looking for the next Sophie Kinsella.
A lot of the reviewers refer to it as being ‘preachy’. Not sure how one writes about animal welfare without sounding ‘preachy’ but Karen Joy Fowler makes a pretty decent stab at it.
And this is why ultimately, I took so long to read it; it’s a tough read about a tough subject. But it needs to be written and needs to be read and I am glad she wrote it and glad that Putnams published it.
I once knew a guy, Alan Blower who worked in South Asia in the early eighties as a sales manager for a UK metal door company and he told me he was taken out in Taipei for a late supper by clients and the main dish, the specialite de maison was a live chimpanzee cooked in the centre of the table with only the top of its head showing and the dinner-guests scooped out its brains and ate them. It was regarded as a rare delicacy and he had to eat it to show ‘face’.
This is the same society that won’t rest until the last rhino horn has been poached and the last African elephant machine-gunned.