Saturday, December 6, 2014

Book Reviews: ‘The Dog’ and ‘We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves’

While on leave from work I have had a chance to read two of the notable books for 2014: Joseph O’Neill’s Booker Prize-longlisted ‘The Dog’, and Karen Jay Fowler’s Booker Prize-shortlisted ‘We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves’.

‘The Dog’, like O’Neill’s excellent previous novel ‘Netherland’ has a middle-aged male protagonist facing a bit of a life crisis. The unnamed character takes up a job in Dubai, working for one of the very rich families there. Our protagonist’s observations on Dubai life and struggles with the local customs will seem familiar to anyone who has ever spent a long stretch of time working overseas (I’m guessing here, because I haven’t). His narration oscillates between being the everyman Westerner and somewhat entertainingly Humbert Humbert. His ‘Humbert’ voice particularly comes out when discussing his ex-girlfriend, with which he had an acrimonious break-up. I found his ruminations on sex and relationships the most absorbing parts of the book, though others may prefer the politics of his dealings with his employers. ‘Netherland’ is still the better novel, but this is worth a read.

It is hard to talk about Karen Jay Fowler’s ‘We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves’ without giving away the major twist, which comes relatively early on in the book. Rosemary Cooke has just started college, and the book is essentially about her unusual childhood, and how it is still affecting her as an adult. She is messed up in a way that is initially pretty fascinating, although the problem for me was that the rest of the book just continued to go on about how messed up she was as well. Fortunately there are a couple of good supporting characters – her brother Lowell, who hasn’t quite forgiven Rosemary for past actions, and her college friend Harlow, who despite initially acting like a crazy person adds a bit of light to Rosemary’s brooding. Critics and readers have praised the structure of the book, which is not quite as radical as some of the copy has made out, though it does enhance the story’s impact. There is a bit of the Moby Dicks about Rosemary’s obsession with a particular animal, but this book does not go on nearly as long, and at about 300 pages with plenty of space it is a pretty easy read.

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