Thread: May Book Group, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves Board: Oblivion / Ship of Fools.


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Posted by Tree Bee (# 4033) on :
 
This month our book group read is We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler.
The thread will be led by Trudy Scrumptious.

I have a copy in my to read pile.
 
Posted by Curiosity killed ... (# 11770) on :
 
I am in too, book already bought, but I want tl finish something else first.
 
Posted by Paul. (# 37) on :
 
I'm in for the discussion. I read it back in March and enjoyed it.
 
Posted by Trudy Scrumptious (# 5647) on :
 
One thing I will say about this book -- there is a fairly huge plot twist relatively early on, and the book is better if you can remain unspoiled and be surprised by that. This, however, is almost impossible if you read the jacket copy or any blurbs about the book. So a lot of people will come to the book already knowing the "secret" -- and it will be interesting to discuss that when we start our discussion around the 20th.

However, on the off chance that anyone has managed to remain unspoiled (I did, when I read it, which was great!), let's be careful in our pre-discussion here to make sure no-one accidentally gives away any major plot points. I read it several months ago and will give it a quick re-skim before I post discussion questions on or around May 20.
 
Posted by Dafyd (# 5549) on :
 
The UK cover is spoiler-free unless I somehow managed to miss it.
I read it late last year so I'll join in.
 
Posted by Sarasa (# 12271) on :
 
I intend reading this after I've finished the book I'm on at the moment. I enjoyed the other book by Fowler that I read, so looking forward to it.
 
Posted by Twilight (# 2832) on :
 
I read it a few months ago based on the recommendation on the book thread by Dafyd. I heeded the warnings not to read anything about it either online or on the book jacket.

I'm looking forward to the discussion. This book changed me.
 
Posted by North East Quine (# 13049) on :
 
I've just finished it, and look forward to the discussion.
 
Posted by Trudy Scrumptious (# 5647) on :
 
I'll post questions sometime around the middle of this week.
 
Posted by Trudy Scrumptious (# 5647) on :
 
OK, the 20th of the month is the traditional start time for discussion, and it's the evening of the 19th here which means it's the 20th somewhere. Thus, I am posting the questions and declaring the discussion open.

Everything from here on down will contain SPOILERS ...


**************

I will post my own responses to the questions in the next post.

1. As suggested by my spoiler warning earlier, one of the most interesting questions, to me, was: did you somehow manage to start reading this book without realizing Fern was a chimpanzee? If so, when did you realize? The narrator doesn't reveal this information until p. 77 (in the paperback edition). How did knowing, or not knowing, this key fact change your impression of the story as it began?

2. Rosemary says, "I tell you Fern is a chimp and, already, you aren't thinking of her as my sister." Was this true for you as a reader?

3. Late in the novel, Rosemary's mother tells her, "I wanted you to have an extraordinary life." Was Rosemary's life, in fact, extraordinary? Do you think the experiment carried out was fair to Rosemary? To Fern? How about Lowell? Their parents?

(Note: There's a good Q&A with the author here in which she lists several books written about real-life chimp experiments similar to the fictional one in this novel.)

4. The experience of growing up with Fern and then losing her turns Lowell into an animal-rights activist: to some extent Rosemary, too, by the end of the novel, has adopted this position, though not in as extreme a way as Lowell. Speaking about experimentation on animals, factory farming, and countless other examples of animal suffering, Lowell tells Rosemary: "The world runs ... on the fuel of this endless, fathomless misery. People know it, but they don't mind what they don't see." What do you think about Lowell's statement, about the ways in which animal suffering fuels our human life and culture?

5. In reflecting years later on the crucial incident where Fern is sent away, Rosemary reflects that she ought to have told her mother: "There was something inside Fern I didn't know." How much is it possible for Rosemary, or any of the human characters, to really "know" Fern or any other animal? What does this suggest to you about what it means to be human? What are the differences between us and other primates, and how important are these differences?

6. This question grows out of question #5, and I don't want to lead a Dead Horse into the Heavenly corral, but I can't discuss this book without raising it. Suffice it to say that the book assumes, as most (but not necessarily all) of us will, that humans have evolved from other primates and that humans and chimps share a common ancestor. (Obviously anyone wanting to debate creation vs evolution would need to take that discussion to Dead Horses board). As we reflect on the relationship between humans and other primates, as this novel does, how does this inform the Christian understanding of humans being "created in the image of God"? If you are Christian, do you think we are "in God's image" in a way that Fern, for example, isn't?

7. In the Q&A I linked to above, author Karen Joy Fowler says, "I conceived of the novel as being all about language, who talks and who doesn’t. Who is heard and who isn’t." In your experience as a reader, is this what the novel is about? What else was it about, for you?

8. What other questions would you like to raise that I haven't included here? Ask away!
 
Posted by Trudy Scrumptious (# 5647) on :
 
quote:


1. As suggested by my spoiler warning earlier, one of the most interesting questions, to me, was: did you somehow manage to start reading this book without realizing Fern was a chimpanzee? If so, when did you realize? The narrator doesn't reveal this information until p. 77 (in the paperback edition). How did knowing, or not knowing, this key fact change your impression of the story as it began?

I think I read a review of this book which gave away the chimp aspect of the story, added the book to my to-read list, and then actually picked it up (via ebook, so I didn't see the cover blurb) months later when I had forgotten the plot. So I entered the book imagining Fern as a human girl as I read it, which I think is what the author wanted (though she must have agreed to allow the publishers to give away the secret in the blurbs, which diminishes the power a lot). As I read through the early part of the book it's clear that something is "off," not quite normal, about Rosemary's family and about Fern in particular. Very shortly before it's revealed, I had a vague memory, "Wait, wasn't this the book about a family raising a monkey or something? Is it possible Fern's not a human being?" And then it was revealed. I liked coming to the knowledge this way, in fact, because I did start from the assumption, as the narrator (and probably the author) want us to, that Fern is human, which makes me think right up front about the similarities and differences.

quote:
2. Rosemary says, "I tell you Fern is a chimp and, already, you aren't thinking of her as my sister." Was this true for you as a reader?


Yes. As soon as I knew she was a chimp it changed the way I saw Fern, saw the parents, every aspect of the story. If I had known that going in, I wouldn't have thought of her as Rosemary's sister in the way Rosemary obviously did. I think the author was really striving for us to get that feeling that Rosemary had as a child, that it was perfectly normal for her to grow up with a chimp as a sister. Because of course, whatever kids grow up with IS their normal.

quote:
3. Late in the novel, Rosemary's mother tells her, "I wanted you to have an extraordinary life." Was Rosemary's life, in fact, extraordinary? Do you think the experiment carried out was fair to Rosemary? To Fern? How about Lowell? Their parents?


I think they all had extraordinary lives, but I think it was pretty clearly a failed experiment, and it scarred everyone in the family. The interview I linked to talks about the fact that most of the real-life chimp experiments in human families did not end well, and it's hard to see, frankly, how it could have. I feel like it's hardest of all on Lowell -- although his cause is noble, his chance of a normal life is pretty much shot to hell.

quote:
4. The experience of growing up with Fern and then losing her turns Lowell into an animal-rights activist: to some extent Rosemary, too, by the end of the novel, has adopted this position, though not in as extreme a way as Lowell. Speaking about experimentation on animals, factory farming, and countless other examples of animal suffering, Lowell tells Rosemary: "The world runs ... on the fuel of this endless, fathomless misery. People know it, but they don't mind what they don't see." What do you think about Lowell's statement, about the ways in which animal suffering fuels our human life and culture?


It bothers me A LOT. It always has, and I've always been deeply disturbed anytime I hear stories about animals in labs, etc., and I can't bear to look at pictures or video or anything like that. But in a lot of ways I think I'm like the people Lowell's talking about, who are happier not thinking about it. I mean, I do eat meat -- I try to buy "humanely farmed" meat if possible, but it's often not possible where I live and I don't put too much effort into trying to source it out, which makes me feel terribly guilty. I try not to buy cosmetics tested on animals but if I were sick I'd be pretty grateful for medicines tested on animals while at the same time thinking it was horrible to do that. I don't really feel it's morally defensible for us to use other animals in this way. So the thought of this "fuel of fathomless misery" troubles me and makes me feel helpless and overwhelmed at the same time. This book made me think a lot about that.

quote:
5. In reflecting years later on the crucial incident where Fern is sent away, Rosemary reflects that she ought to have told her mother: "There was something inside Fern I didn't know." How much is it possible for Rosemary, or any of the human characters, to really "know" Fern or any other animal? What does this suggest to you about what it means to be human? What are the differences between us and other primates, and how important are these differences?

6. This question grows out of question #5, and I don't want to lead a Dead Horse into the Heavenly corral, but I can't discuss this book without raising it. Suffice it to say that the book assumes, as most (but not necessarily all) of us will, that humans have evolved from other primates and that humans and chimps share a common ancestor. (Obviously anyone wanting to debate creation vs evolution would need to take that discussion to Dead Horses board). As we reflect on the relationship between humans and other primates, as this novel does, how does this inform the Christian understanding of humans being "created in the image of God"? If you are Christian, do you think we are "in God's image" in a way that Fern, for example, isn't?

These two are really the same question for me. Even though the novel, and the device of introducing Fern as Rosemary's sister without at first revealing she's a chimp, makes us think about the similarities between humans and other primates, what it really made me reflect on was the differences. It's quite clear that even though chimps develop more quickly than humans in the first couple of years of life, there's a level that Rosemary quickly reaches that Fern will never reach. What is that difference? It's partly to do with language -- even primates who have learned quite a lot of sign language still communicate at a level we'd consider pretty primitive. Yes, they (and dolphins, etc) are much more intelligent than we once thought -- but they're not studying US; they're not writing novels about their relationship with us, nor are they writing symphonies or tragedies or creating computer games or whatever. To me, there's a degree to which human development is SO far ahead of that of other species that it has to be a qualitative rater than just a quantitative difference, even though I can't explain that scientifically. I do think there's some other element in our consciousness -- something in the mix of self-awareness, and highly developed language, and our moral sense (I think that's the thing that Rosemary, even as a child, recognizes that Fern lacks: the sense of right and wrong) -- that represents the "image of God" in some way. Something extra that God somehow gave to humans.

Now, I think a true animal-rights activist like Lowell would completely reject this idea and say that we are all equal, we're just another animal and our rational minds don't give us any right to rule over other animals. I do think we're qualitatively different -- but I don't think that gives us the right to abuse and experiment on and otherwise torture animals; maybe not even the right to eat them (though they do eat each other). I think our higher development gives us a duty to care for them, which, of course, is there in the Genesis story as well (though we haven't done a very good job of it).

quote:
7. In the Q&A I linked to above, author Karen Joy Fowler says, "I conceived of the novel as being all about language, who talks and who doesn’t. Who is heard and who isn’t." In your experience as a reader, is this what the novel is about? What else was it about, for you?


I think for me this is a big part of the big thing that the book was about -- the differences and similarities between humans and other animals -- because language is such a key element of that. Language becomes a defining thing for Rosemary, too, as she largely falls silent after Fern is taken away. To a large extent, language defines who we are. Lowell wants to spend his life speaking for the animals who have no voice, but his own voice is pretty silence, too, in the novel.

As an additional note it's probably worth mentioning that I have -- not exactly a phobia of monkeys, but an extreme "ick factor" when it comes to them -- I don't like looking at them, whether they're chimps, bonobos, gorillas, cartoon monkeys (even Curious George creeps me out), stuffed monkeys, sock monkeys, etc. And the more human-like they behave or are made to look, the more they creep me out. So once I remembered this was the book about the chimp, I had a pretty big "ick factor" barrier to overcome -- but by that time I was already engaged in the story and wanted to know more. And it was interesting because I think my dislike of non-human primates is driven by the very thing this book explores -- how they are both like, and unlike, us.
 
Posted by Paul. (# 37) on :
 
I read the book back in March, and my memory isn't the greatest these days. That said, here I go...

quote:
Originally posted by Trudy Scrumptious:
1. As suggested by my spoiler warning earlier, one of the most interesting questions, to me, was: did you somehow manage to start reading this book without realizing Fern was a chimpanzee? If so, when did you realize? The narrator doesn't reveal this information until p. 77 (in the paperback edition). How did knowing, or not knowing, this key fact change your impression of the story as it began?

Given my propensity for getting spoiled for things, I was pleased that I managed not to for this. So I realised on p77.

I'd read "The Jane Austen Book Club" years ago, and the blurb for this one made it sound like a family drama with some secret from the past emerging to create drama in the present. Which I suppose it was but I was thinking in terms of abuse, adoption, criminal past, I dunno. Definitely not this.

So from there on out I knew I was in for a very different kind of story.

quote:
2. Rosemary says, "I tell you Fern is a chimp and, already, you aren't thinking of her as my sister." Was this true for you as a reader?
Yes. I want to say, "of course" but I guess that's what the novel is challenging. But then I wince when the guy in the Bible Study group calls me "brother" so maybe I'm not the best to judge [Biased]

quote:
3. Late in the novel, Rosemary's mother tells her, "I wanted you to have an extraordinary life." Was Rosemary's life, in fact, extraordinary? Do you think the experiment carried out was fair to Rosemary? To Fern? How about Lowell? Their parents?

Given everything, it's amazing how ordinary her life turned out. I think she was far more affected by losing her brother - which could have happened for various ordinary reasons.

Was if fair? No. To no-one, including Fern. It was hubris on a huge scale. They say they intended to keep Fern indefinitely but they never thought through the University's ownership of Fern. They seem not to have thought through a lot of aspects.

quote:
4. The experience of growing up with Fern and then losing her turns Lowell into an animal-rights activist: to some extent Rosemary, too, by the end of the novel, has adopted this position, though not in as extreme a way as Lowell. Speaking about experimentation on animals, factory farming, and countless other examples of animal suffering, Lowell tells Rosemary: "The world runs ... on the fuel of this endless, fathomless misery. People know it, but they don't mind what they don't see." What do you think about Lowell's statement, about the ways in which animal suffering fuels our human life and culture?
I can see why he makes it. I'm not sure I fully agree but I have a lot of sympathy. Sadly I don't do much about it. I don't do enough about human suffering either which ultimately I would prioritise.

quote:
5. In reflecting years later on the crucial incident where Fern is sent away, Rosemary reflects that she ought to have told her mother: "There was something inside Fern I didn't know." How much is it possible for Rosemary, or any of the human characters, to really "know" Fern or any other animal? What does this suggest to you about what it means to be human? What are the differences between us and other primates, and how important are these differences?


I'm not an expert obviously but I'd always assumed that we are ultimately quite different. The stories I'd heard confirm this. I think also that the human tendency to anthropomorphise makes it dangerous - because we see more similarities than may actually be there and then get a shock (e.g. the cat, the violence in general). This is one of the reasons why I think it was always going to be unfair.

quote:
6. As we reflect on the relationship between humans and other primates, as this novel does, how does this inform the Christian understanding of humans being "created in the image of God"? If you are Christian, do you think we are "in God's image" in a way that Fern, for example, isn't?
Not sure. I would once have said yes and I am definitely formed by that thinking. My visceral reaction - as may be apparent - is that it's foolish to treat animals as if they were humans, and I think that comes from this thinking. I'm not sure you have to take a creationist view to see the distinction.

quote:
7. In the Q&A I linked to above, author Karen Joy Fowler says, "I conceived of the novel as being all about language, who talks and who doesn’t. Who is heard and who isn’t." In your experience as a reader, is this what the novel is about? What else was it about, for you?
Partly about that. One thing I want to say is that at first I really resisted the idea of Fern being a true sister to Rosemary. In the end though I came to view that as a valid point of view for Rosemary given her experience.

I'd also like to say I did really enjoy this book.
 
Posted by Twilight (# 2832) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Trudy Scrumptious:


**************


1. As suggested by my spoiler warning earlier, one of the most interesting questions, to me, was: did you somehow manage to start reading this book without realizing Fern was a chimpanzee? If so, when did you realize? The narrator doesn't reveal this information until p. 77 (in the paperback edition). How did knowing, or not knowing, this key fact change your impression of the story as it began?



I was unspoiled because Dafyd mentioned in our book thread that it was best not to know, so I ordered it from my library without reading the slightest blurb. It was best that way.

quote:
2. Rosemary says, "I tell you Fern is a chimp and, already, you aren't thinking of her as my sister." Was this true for you as a reader?

Yes, it changed things, which was why I was glad not to know in advance. I had been imagining all sorts of things, institutionalization or even the death of the "sister."

quote:
3. Late in the novel, Rosemary's mother tells her, "I wanted you to have an extraordinary life." Was Rosemary's life, in fact, extraordinary? Do you think the experiment carried out was fair to Rosemary? To Fern? How about Lowell? Their parents?

My first husband was a zoo curator, we had a few exotic animals, a spider, a kinkajou, a bunch of reptiles. This is the sort of experiment I can picture our twenty year-old selves taking part in with thrilled excitement. I'm so glad we didn't. A few years later, the experience with the kinkajou reaching puberty and tearing up the house and attacking me, was enough to have warned us. I thought it sounded horribly sad for all concerned when things didn't work out. The children most of all, because they didn't have the parents' advantage of knowing that Fern wasn't really, their sister. I think the parents kept a distance from Fern that the kids did not.

quote:

4. The experience of growing up with Fern and then losing her turns Lowell into an animal-rights activist: to some extent Rosemary, too, by the end of the novel, has adopted this position, though not in as extreme a way as Lowell. Speaking about experimentation on animals, factory farming, and countless other examples of animal suffering, Lowell tells Rosemary: "The world runs ... on the fuel of this endless, fathomless misery. People know it, but they don't mind what they don't see." What do you think about Lowell's statement, about the ways in which animal suffering fuels our human life and culture?

It bothers me a lot, particularly experiments with primates and dogs. It probably shouldn't matter whether it's a rat or a dog but it does to me. I went looking at sites geared against using animals for testing, looking specifically for lists of which products tested on which animals, so I would know what to boycott. I couldn't find what I wanted because the groups seem very all-or-nothing.
quote:
5. In reflecting years later on the crucial incident where Fern is sent away, Rosemary reflects that she ought to have told her mother: "There was something inside Fern I didn't know." How much is it possible for Rosemary, or any of the human characters, to really "know" Fern or any other animal? What does this suggest to you about what it means to be human? What are the differences between us and other primates, and how important are these differences?

I found that question very disturbing. Like Trudy, I don't like looking a primates. They are too close to us and it disturbs me to think they might have our minds but be trapped in their bodies and their voiceless lives.

Children sometimes do very cruel things like the one Fern did, at least they might if they had her physical strength. The difference being that the child would feel immediate remorse and guilt -- of course we don't know if Fern did or not. How much of that is taught? Is our brain better able to for see consequences and predict feelings of guilt?
quote:

6. This question grows out of question #5, and I don't want to lead a Dead Horse into the Heavenly corral, but I can't discuss this book without raising it. Suffice it to say that the book assumes, as most (but not necessarily all) of us will, that humans have evolved from other primates and that humans and chimps share a common ancestor. (Obviously anyone wanting to debate creation vs evolution would need to take that discussion to Dead Horses board). As we reflect on the relationship between humans and other primates, as this novel does, how does this inform the Christian understanding of humans being "created in the image of God"? If you are Christian, do you think we are "in God's image" in a way that Fern, for example, isn't?

If we are, then it means our responsibility to treat these other creatures well is even greater.

quote:
7. In the Q&A I linked to above, author Karen Joy Fowler says, "I conceived of the novel as being all about language, who talks and who doesn’t. Who is heard and who isn’t." In your experience as a reader, is this what the novel is about? What else was it about, for you?

That's part of it for me. I just read, The Story of Beautiful Girl where one character is deaf and was never taught to read or sign. His profound isolation and then many, many bits of knowledge we take for granted but have learned through hearing is brought to light. Fern can hear but seems to lack some of the ability to process what she takes in, that may come with speech. She is also isolated because her ability to express her feelings and questions is limited to her signs and someone who can read them.
 
Posted by Trudy Scrumptious (# 5647) on :
 
Thanks so much for the input -- I love hearing what others thought about books that I've read and enjoyed. Hope to hear from some more folks as they finish reading and come back to the thread.

Twilight, you said "This book changed me." Can you say a little more about that?
 
Posted by Dafyd (# 5549) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Twilight:
I was unspoiled because Dafyd mentioned in our book thread that it was best not to know, so I ordered it from my library without reading the slightest blurb.

It's nice of you to credit me, but I think it was La Vie en Rouge's post, to which I replied.
 
Posted by Twilight (# 2832) on :
 
Sorry Dafyd.
quote:
Originally posted by Trudy Scrumptious:

Twilight, you said "This book changed me." Can you say a little more about that?

First, looking back over my post, I see I said we had a spider, I meant a spider monkey -- in that house spiders were taken for granted.

In spite of all my experience with animals, the book changed me because it put me in the animals place, inside Fern's mind in ways I hadn't gone before. I felt Fern's fear and confusion when she was taken from home, before that her struggle to live and adapt herself to life with humans. She must have sensed her failure to understand certain things and she probably felt she was disappointing her, "mother and father."

The book made me more strongly against animal testing. Over the years, I've gradually become more and more opposed to the idea of keeping exotic animals as pets, and this reinforced that for me. I know I don't want to visit a zoo anytime soon and I'm getting a little closer to vegetarian all the time.

[ 21. May 2015, 10:41: Message edited by: Twilight ]
 
Posted by Dafyd (# 5549) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Trudy Scrumptious:
1. As suggested by my spoiler warning earlier, one of the most interesting questions, to me, was: did you somehow manage to start reading this book without realizing Fern was a chimpanzee?

I didn't know until I read it. Obviously it meant I spent the first part of the story knowing that there's some mystery about the sister, and the sister is in some way abnormal. As Fowler has written an sf novel, I didn't think I had any chance of working it out myself so didn't try.

quote:
2. Rosemary says, "I tell you Fern is a chimp and, already, you aren't thinking of her as my sister." Was this true for you as a reader?
Not sure.

quote:
3. Late in the novel, Rosemary's mother tells her, "I wanted you to have an extraordinary life." Was Rosemary's life, in fact, extraordinary? Do you think the experiment carried out was fair to Rosemary? To Fern? How about Lowell? Their parents?
It certainly affects all of them, and on the whole it makes most of them less happy than they might otherwise have been. Whether their parents ought to have known it would when they started is difficult to say.
The book certainly raises questions about the ideal of the disinterested scientific researcher and about how far that can extend.

quote:
4. What do you think about Lowell's statement, about the ways in which animal suffering fuels our human life and culture?
There's a lot of suffering in the world that seems too large for us to deal with individually or even as part of a campaigning group.
(There's a passage in Coetzee's Elizabeth Costello along similar lines, in which a vegetarian reflects on whether or not it is mad to think that meat eaters could all be so catastrophically morally wrong.)

quote:
5. How much is it possible for Rosemary, or any of the human characters, to really "know" Fern or any other animal? What does this suggest to you about what it means to be human? What are the differences between us and other primates, and how important are these differences?
It appears Fern lacks the ability to articulate her emotions, beyond mere expression, and to try to correct misunderstandings. I think that's important. In addition, she comes from a species whose biological and cultural instincts haven't adapted to take those possibilities into account.

quote:
6. As we reflect on the relationship between humans and other primates, as this novel does, how does this inform the Christian understanding of humans being "created in the image of God"? If you are Christian, do you think we are "in God's image" in a way that Fern, for example, isn't?
Saying all human beings are made in God's image is a way of saying that human beings are matters for concern regardless of privilege or practical considerations. I'm not sure that using 'but chimpanzees are not' as a way of justifying abuse of chimpanzees is an appropriate use of the concept though. In any case, it seems to matter that Fern was brought up as part of a family - it gives her a relationship to human beings that makes her an object of human moral concern beyond that of a pet.

[ 21. May 2015, 12:20: Message edited by: Dafyd ]
 
Posted by North East Quine (# 13049) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Trudy Scrumptious:


1. As suggested by my spoiler warning earlier, one of the most interesting questions, to me, was: did you somehow manage to start reading this book without realizing Fern was a chimpanzee? If so, when did you realize? The narrator doesn't reveal this information until p. 77 (in the paperback edition). How did knowing, or not knowing, this key fact change your impression of the story as it began?


2. Rosemary says, "I tell you Fern is a chimp and, already, you aren't thinking of her as my sister." Was this true for you as a reader?

3. Late in the novel, Rosemary's mother tells her, "I wanted you to have an extraordinary life." Was Rosemary's life, in fact, extraordinary? Do you think the experiment carried out was fair to Rosemary? To Fern? How about Lowell? Their parents?

(Note: There's a good Q&A with the author here in which she lists several books written about real-life chimp experiments similar to the fictional one in this novel.)

4. The experience of growing up with Fern and then losing her turns Lowell into an animal-rights activist: to some extent Rosemary, too, by the end of the novel, has adopted this position, though not in as extreme a way as Lowell. Speaking about experimentation on animals, factory farming, and countless other examples of animal suffering, Lowell tells Rosemary: "The world runs ... on the fuel of this endless, fathomless misery. People know it, but they don't mind what they don't see." What do you think about Lowell's statement, about the ways in which animal suffering fuels our human life and culture?

5. In reflecting years later on the crucial incident where Fern is sent away, Rosemary reflects that she ought to have told her mother: "There was something inside Fern I didn't know." How much is it possible for Rosemary, or any of the human characters, to really "know" Fern or any other animal? What does this suggest to you about what it means to be human? What are the differences between us and other primates, and how important are these differences?

6. This question grows out of question #5, and I don't want to lead a Dead Horse into the Heavenly corral, but I can't discuss this book without raising it. Suffice it to say that the book assumes, as most (but not necessarily all) of us will, that humans have evolved from other primates and that humans and chimps share a common ancestor. (Obviously anyone wanting to debate creation vs evolution would need to take that discussion to Dead Horses board). As we reflect on the relationship between humans and other primates, as this novel does, how does this inform the Christian understanding of humans being "created in the image of God"? If you are Christian, do you think we are "in God's image" in a way that Fern, for example, isn't?

7. In the Q&A I linked to above, author Karen Joy Fowler says, "I conceived of the novel as being all about language, who talks and who doesn’t. Who is heard and who isn’t." In your experience as a reader, is this what the novel is about? What else was it about, for you?

8. What other questions would you like to raise that I haven't included here? Ask away!

1. I took the advice and started the book without any advance information. Up to p77, I had been envisaging Fern as a much older sister, who had left home for some reason. I assumed the reason for Fern's leaving home would be the twist. As a knock-on, having assumed that Fern was at least 15 years older than Rosemary, I also envisaged Rosemary's parents as older parents, perhaps aged about 40 when Rosemary was born, and in their early sixties when Rosemary is at college.

2. Yes, as soon as I realised that Fern was a chimp, I stopped thinking of her as a "real" sister.

3. The experiment impacted negatively on all of them. I did wonder what the parents envisaged as a good outcome? Also, what attracted Rosemary's mother to the idea of her daughter (and her son?) having "an extra-ordinary life"?

4. I try to buy all our meat from our local butcher, so I know which farms it comes from. But I refuse to think about it when I'm e.g. eating out. I agree with Lowell, it's very easy to not see and not mind.

5. I don't know enough about primates to be able to answer. The only animals I've ever lived with have been cats, who were perfectly capable of communicating their feelings to us, but were uninterested in our feelings.

6. Yes, I think I am "in God's image" in a way that Fern isn't, but it's not something I've thought about much before.

7. Yes, to an extent, although it seemed to me to be more about family relationships.

I liked this book very much, and envisage rereading it at some point.
 
Posted by Twilight (# 2832) on :
 
Other things; .

I loved the voice of our "monkey girl" protagonist, rosemary. I just adored her and wanted to be friends with her. The cafeteria scene where she couldn't resist jumping right in with the other girl's acting out, chaos was hilarious and wonderful.

I'll be reading other things by this writer, she's hilarious, thoughtful and original.
 
Posted by la vie en rouge (# 10688) on :
 
I actually did manage to start this book not knowing that Fern was a chimp (I downloaded it on Amazon and the blurb managed to avoid mentioning it).

I am one of those who did change my mind about Fern as soon as I found out she was a chimp. To me the thing that stuck out is that no matter hard the family and the researchers tried, Fern would never, ever be human. To pretend otherwise was terribly cruel and unfair to everyone involved, including her. It’s notable that things had already started going wrong before the final incident with the kitten – she had bitten the handlers and such. It was doomed to end horribly from the beginning.
 
Posted by Nenya (# 16427) on :
 
1. As suggested by my spoiler warning earlier, one of the most interesting questions, to me, was: did you somehow manage to start reading this book without realizing Fern was a chimpanzee? If so, when did you realize? The narrator doesn't reveal this information until p. 77 (in the paperback edition). How did knowing, or not knowing, this key fact change your impression of the story as it began?

Unfortunately I heard a late-night interview with the author in which she gave the game away. It was that which made me think it would be an interesting book to read, but I wish now that I had stuck my fingers in my ears and sung "lalalala" during that bit of the interview. So I knew from the outset it wasn't going to be an easy read.

2. Rosemary says, "I tell you Fern is a chimp and, already, you aren't thinking of her as my sister." Was this true for you as a reader?

No, because I already knew. But it would have if I hadn't known. Most people I've spoken to who didn't know realised before the reveal that there was something strange about Fern, possibly that she was handicapped or had some other special need. Had that been so she would have been human, so a "real" sister in that sense.

3. Late in the novel, Rosemary's mother tells her, "I wanted you to have an extraordinary life." Was Rosemary's life, in fact, extraordinary? Do you think the experiment carried out was fair to Rosemary? To Fern? How about Lowell? Their parents?

Extraordinary, I think, yes - she carried the very unusual effects of her childhood throughout her life. No, not fair to any of them. I suspect Rosemary's mother was unprepared for the strength of feeling she developed for Fern and the sense of loss when she had to leave.

I'm currently reading "Watching the English" and the author of that, Kate Fox, had a father who wanted to bring her up with a chimp; Kate's mother absolutely forbade it but Kate says she thinks it would have been great. I wonder if she's read this book.

4. The experience of growing up with Fern and then losing her turns Lowell into an animal-rights activist: to some extent Rosemary, too, by the end of the novel, has adopted this position, though not in as extreme a way as Lowell. Speaking about experimentation on animals, factory farming, and countless other examples of animal suffering, Lowell tells Rosemary: "The world runs ... on the fuel of this endless, fathomless misery. People know it, but they don't mind what they don't see." What do you think about Lowell's statement, about the ways in which animal suffering fuels our human life and culture?

I think it's true. I know it goes on but I can't think about it, I find it far too upsetting. The type of animal being experimented on doesn't make much difference to me - we used to keep fancy rats as pets and knowing how intelligent they are, and what characters, I hate to think what countless numbers of them have suffered and are suffering for us. If I thought too much about it, or ever visited an abbatoir, I expect I would go vegetarian. So I don't visit one. I am a total coward.

5. In reflecting years later on the crucial incident where Fern is sent away, Rosemary reflects that she ought to have told her mother: "There was something inside Fern I didn't know." How much is it possible for Rosemary, or any of the human characters, to really "know" Fern or any other animal? What does this suggest to you about what it means to be human? What are the differences between us and other primates, and how important are these differences?

I think we anthropomorphise them to a certain degree. Who knows what goes on in their minds; how can we know for sure even if we think we know? But there are things inside other people we don't know either. I don't know enough about the differences between us and other primates; will have to think more on that one.

6. This question grows out of question #5, and I don't want to lead a Dead Horse into the Heavenly corral, but I can't discuss this book without raising it. Suffice it to say that the book assumes, as most (but not necessarily all) of us will, that humans have evolved from other primates and that humans and chimps share a common ancestor. (Obviously anyone wanting to debate creation vs evolution would need to take that discussion to Dead Horses board). As we reflect on the relationship between humans and other primates, as this novel does, how does this inform the Christian understanding of humans being "created in the image of God"? If you are Christian, do you think we are "in God's image" in a way that Fern, for example, isn't?

I'll have to think further about that one...

7. In the Q&A I linked to above, author Karen Joy Fowler says, "I conceived of the novel as being all about language, who talks and who doesn’t. Who is heard and who isn’t." In your experience as a reader, is this what the novel is about? What else was it about, for you?

I'd say it was about communication and also very much about relationships and about how childhood experiences affect your adult life. In the interview I saw with the author it talked about these chimp experiments and how they were stopped quite soon when they realised that the human child didn't imprint the animal so much as the animal imprinted the child. In this case they all suffered - sadly, as is often the case in our interactions with the animal world, the animal suffered the worst.

Very interesting discussion!
 
Posted by Twilight (# 2832) on :
 
So true, Nenya. I think another big factor is the pure physical strength of Fern and the other chimps. It's common for a pre-school age human to hit, bite, or pull the cat's tail when frustrated. Fern feels the same emotions and they result in seriously wounded baby sitters and dead kittens. She's not more evil, just stronger. Plus her teacher can't say, "Use your words, Fern."
 
Posted by Trudy Scrumptious (# 5647) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Twilight:
Fern feels the same emotions and they result in seriously wounded baby sitters and dead kittens. She's not more evil, just stronger. Plus her teacher can't say, "Use your words, Fern."

I wonder how much that fact alone accounts for the difference in human consciousness, rationality, morality, etc., as compared to other animals? Have we developed all these "higher functions" simply because we CAN use our words? I guess that gets back to the thing of whether the novel is mostly about language.

Also connects to my obsessive wondering about what the "image of God" consists of -- maybe it is language?
 
Posted by Moo (# 107) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Nenya
In the interview I saw with the author it talked about these chimp experiments and how they were stopped quite soon when they realised that the human child didn't imprint the animal so much as the animal imprinted the child.

I haven't read the book, but I have followed this thread with interest. The above quote especially interests me.

It appears that young humans learn more from others than chimps, whose instincts are stronger. I wonder if this is the most important difference, rather than speech. Human infants are born into an enormous number of different environments, and they have to learn to live in the environment they are born into. They need a lot of learning ability. OTOH, chimps are born into a much smaller number of environments, and they don't need to learn so much.

Moo
 
Posted by Trudy Scrumptious (# 5647) on :
 
There are suggestions of that in the novel, too, of course -- Rosemary exhibiting chimp-like behaviors when she goes to school, for example.
 
Posted by Sarasa (# 12271) on :
 
Although I tried not to know, I was vaguely aware that Fern was a chimp, but I knew no more than that. I did wonder if we were going to stray into sci-fi territory as in Peter Dickinson’s Eva, where the memories of a girl are transplanted into a chimp after an accident.
I’m afraid I didn’t enjoy the book that much. I found Rosemary’s voice rather irritating and although I liked the Fowler managed to convey the way she felt like an outsider trying to be a human and not a ‘monkey girl’ the plot didn’t grip me enough. It was one of those books where every now and then I though great it’s really got going only to hit another rather dull bit
 
Posted by Tree Bee (# 4033) on :
 
Here are my thoughts. I didn't really enjoy this book either as I felt manipulated and campaigned against.

1. As suggested by my spoiler warning earlier, one of the most interesting questions, to me, was: did you somehow manage to start reading this book without realizing Fern was a chimpanzee? If so, when did you realize? The narrator doesn't reveal this information until p. 77 (in the paperback edition). How did knowing, or not knowing, this key fact change your impression of the story as it began?

I didn't realise Fern was a chimp, so as I began to work out her age when she left I became confused and concerned; had she been abducted?

2. Rosemary says, "I tell you Fern is a chimp and, already, you aren't thinking of her as my sister." Was this true for you as a reader?

Yes. I felt hoodwinked and after that I couldn't trust her as a narrator.

3. Late in the novel, Rosemary's mother tells her, "I wanted you to have an extraordinary life." Was Rosemary's life, in fact, extraordinary? Do you think the experiment carried out was fair to Rosemary? To Fern? How about Lowell? Their parents?

No, it wasn't fair on any of them, as shown by the repercussions.


4. The experience of growing up with Fern and then losing her turns Lowell into an animal-rights activist: to some extent Rosemary, too, by the end of the novel, has adopted this position, though not in as extreme a way as Lowell. Speaking about experimentation on animals, factory farming, and countless other examples of animal suffering, Lowell tells Rosemary: "The world runs ... on the fuel of this endless, fathomless misery. People know it, but they don't mind what they don't see." What do you think about Lowell's statement, about the ways in which animal suffering fuels our human life and culture?

I can understand Lowell's activism. It's wrong that animals are used for experimentation and I try to avoid products that are tested on them. I haven't eaten meat for a long time due to my concerns about animal containment , transportation and killing.

5. In reflecting years later on the crucial incident where Fern is sent away, Rosemary reflects that she ought to have told her mother: "There was something inside Fern I didn't know." How much is it possible for Rosemary, or any of the human characters, to really "know" Fern or any other animal? What does this suggest to you about what it means to be human? What are the differences between us and other primates, and how important are these differences?

Fern was an animal, with animal instincts and habits for all her intelligence. I know how responsive pet cats are and how well they can communicate with humans. Then they catch sweet baby birds and eat them. Not sure this answers your question...

6. This question grows out of question #5, and I don't want to lead a Dead Horse into the Heavenly corral, but I can't discuss this book without raising it. Suffice it to say that the book assumes, as most (but not necessarily all) of us will, that humans have evolved from other primates and that humans and chimps share a common ancestor. (Obviously anyone wanting to debate creation vs evolution would need to take that discussion to Dead Horses board). As we reflect on the relationship between humans and other primates, as this novel does, how does this inform the Christian understanding of humans being "created in the image of God"? If you are Christian, do you think we are "in God's image" in a way that Fern, for example, isn't?

Yes, I think we are, but am aware that's arrogant and I may be mistaken.

7. In the Q&A I linked to above, author Karen Joy Fowler says, "I conceived of the novel as being all about language, who talks and who doesn’t. Who is heard and who isn’t." In your experience as a reader, is this what the novel is about? What else was it about, for you?

I was moved by how Fern communicated using sign language, and this is the aspect of the story that stays with me, especially the scene when Lowell finds her caged and she pleads with him to take her home.

8. What other questions would you like to raise that I haven't included here? Ask away!

More of a couple of comments really. I felt distanced from Rosemary as she had proved to be deceptive to the reader so I couldn't become involved in her story.
On the more positive side, I liked the way she addressed the reader directly from time to time, in the style of Miranda. I found this humorous and refreshing.
 
Posted by North East Quine (# 13049) on :
 
I have been pondering Rosemary's mother's desire for her to have an "extra-ordinary life."

ISTM that there are a huge range of experiences, lifestyles and family configurations within the ambit of "ordinary" life. I don't understand why her mother felt that "ordinary" life was not enough.
 
Posted by Trudy Scrumptious (# 5647) on :
 
I think quite a lot of people do want extraordinary lives for themselves and their children. I've always thought this was a terrible idea, since most extraordinary lives include quite a lot of hardship and difficulty, and I aspire to live as ordinary a life as I can. But of course a lot depends on what you mean by "extraordinary."

It's interesting to me that so far the two people who didn't enjoy the book found Rosemary's narrative voice most off-putting, whereas for some readers (certainly for me) it was the voice that drew us in. As I said, I would probably not have read a novel that featured a chimp so prominently if I hadn't loved the voice of the human narrator, but I think that just goes to show how diverse our reactions to stories are, and how no author is going to get it right for EVERY reader.

I hadn't thought about the idea of Rosemary as an unreliable narrator because she conceals that key fact from us for 77 pages. I liked that, because she did it deliberately and told us why she did it, and it added to my sense that she had a specific story she wanted to tell in a specific way. Also, I always assume any first-person narrator is unreliable to some degree anyway, just as we all are in accounts of our own lives.
 
Posted by Curiosity killed ... (# 11770) on :
 
I enjoyed this book and liked the way the narrator was expressing ideas and memories with all their clarity and cloudiness.

1. As suggested by my spoiler warning earlier, one of the most interesting questions, to me, was: did you somehow manage to start reading this book without realizing Fern was a chimpanzee? If so, when did you realize? The narrator doesn't reveal this information until p. 77 (in the paperback edition). How did knowing, or not knowing, this key fact change your impression of the story as it began?

I deliberately didn't read the spoilers first, so didn't know Fern was a chimpanzee until the grand reveal, but I knew something was off - Fern and Lowell climbing out of the house down a tree when Rosemary could not, even though Fern was the same age as Rosemary and the presence of grad students were flagging something.

2. Rosemary says, "I tell you Fern is a chimp and, already, you aren't thinking of her as my sister." Was this true for you as a reader?
Rosemary was convinced that Fern was her sister; there had to be something in the family dynamics for that certainty, so I tried to keep an open mind.

3. Late in the novel, Rosemary's mother tells her, "I wanted you to have an extraordinary life." Was Rosemary's life, in fact, extraordinary? Do you think the experiment carried out was fair to Rosemary? To Fern? How about Lowell? Their parents?

(Note: There's a good Q&A with the author here in which she lists several books written about real-life chimp experiments similar to the fictional one in this novel.)


The extra-ordinariness seems to affect everyone adversely in the story - including Fern.

(The list of books was in the appendices in my edition and I found it when I began wondering about the book - after page 77.)

4. The experience of growing up with Fern and then losing her turns Lowell into an animal-rights activist: to some extent Rosemary, too, by the end of the novel, has adopted this position, though not in as extreme a way as Lowell. Speaking about experimentation on animals, factory farming, and countless other examples of animal suffering, Lowell tells Rosemary: "The world runs ... on the fuel of this endless, fathomless misery. People know it, but they don't mind what they don't see." What do you think about Lowell's statement, about the ways in which animal suffering fuels our human life and culture?

I would totally agree - I grew up near what was the biggest calf market in Europe and returned there as an adult with my own child. I also saw battery chicken and some intensive pig farming far closer than I have ever wanted. That knowledge of intensive farming made me vegetarian for years afterwards and am still very picky about the meat, eggs and milk* products I buy and eat. (Although we made exceptions for meat from some farm shops where we could name the meat, and had probably fed it earlier). I would also say that cheap anything is a result of exploitation - of animals, people and/or the land.

5. In reflecting years later on the crucial incident where Fern is sent away, Rosemary reflects that she ought to have told her mother: "There was something inside Fern I didn't know." How much is it possible for Rosemary, or any of the human characters, to really "know" Fern or any other animal? What does this suggest to you about what it means to be human? What are the differences between us and other primates, and how important are these differences?
How could a five year old express something so abstract? As a child of psychologists who mentioned Piaget earlier in the book she should realise that. She was doing her best by saying she was frightened of Fern.

How well do we know anyone, let alone a character from another species? Can we really know everything about other people? So why expect we can know the primates?

6. This question grows out of question #5, and I don't want to lead a Dead Horse into the Heavenly corral, but I can't discuss this book without raising it. Suffice it to say that the book assumes, as most (but not necessarily all) of us will, that humans have evolved from other primates and that humans and chimps share a common ancestor. (Obviously anyone wanting to debate creation vs evolution would need to take that discussion to Dead Horses board). As we reflect on the relationship between humans and other primates, as this novel does, how does this inform the Christian understanding of humans being "created in the image of God"? If you are Christian, do you think we are "in God's image" in a way that Fern, for example, isn't?
I find that aspect of Christianity unhelpful - particularly in the way it has been used to abuse the power of dominion over the natural world and other animals. If God created everything, surely the world as it is shows some aspect of his nature? Perhaps we should emphasise stewardship rather than setting ourselves aside on a separate pedestal.

7. In the Q&A I linked to above, author Karen Joy Fowler says, "I conceived of the novel as being all about language, who talks and who doesn’t. Who is heard and who isn’t." In your experience as a reader, is this what the novel is about? What else was it about, for you?"
It is to an extent, but she has Lowell as an animal activist who becomes silent using actions to be heard

8. What other questions would you like to raise that I haven't included here? Ask away!
I found the question in the back of the book:
quote:
"Maybe it was useful, when plotting books, to imagine that someone's life could be shaped by a single early trauma, maybe even one inaccessible in memory. But where were the blind studies, the control groups? The reproducible data?" To what extent does this book reject scientific ideas in favour of emotion and lived experience?
interesting as I felt the book was comparing and contrasting scientific method in humans and experience. Because it's so difficult to experiment on humans.

* Milk production requires calves so is tied inextricably into meat production.

I gave up on vegetarianism when my daughter became ill and couldn't eat dairy, nuts and some grains, including wheat, and pulses, tomatoes, onions, garlic and other alliums. The only way of getting enough protein down her for a balanced diet was adding meat back into our diet. Left to my own devices I don't eat meat, although I do eat fish.
 
Posted by Fineline (# 12143) on :
 
I just read this book, over the last couple of days - I really liked it.

1. As suggested by my spoiler warning earlier, one of the most interesting questions, to me, was: did you somehow manage to start reading this book without realizing Fern was a chimpanzee? If so, when did you realize? The narrator doesn't reveal this information until p. 77 (in the paperback edition). How did knowing, or not knowing, this key fact change your impression of the story as it began?

I had no idea, and when the narrator revealed it and said that we might have already figured it out, I was totally stunned - I don't think I would have ever guessed. I had no idea that human families ever raised chimps as if they were human children. I had got the impression from the various things Rosemary had said that Fern was adopted, and that she was 'different' and that a lot of adults disliked her and kind of dehumanised her. At the back of my mind was that Fern was a child with some kind of brain disability and consequent challenging behaviour and different boundary norms, especially as their childhood was in a time when such things weren't really understood. Rosemary seems to have been born probably in the same year I was born, and I had challenging behaviour as a child, and adults did sometimes kind of see/treat me in a not-quite-human way.

2. Rosemary says, "I tell you Fern is a chimp and, already, you aren't thinking of her as my sister." Was this true for you as a reader?

I don't think so, although this may be a semantic difference. I saw her differently but not as no longer a sister. I saw her as a different sister from how I'd imagined. She was a hairy sister. A non-human sister. I now understood why Rosemary had been admiring Harlow's biceps when she first saw her.

I did, however, think the story was in some ways less sad when I found out Fern was a chimp. Not less sad for Rosemary or for Fern or for the family - but less sad, in an abstract way, that neither of the grandmothers wanted Fern named after them, and they both wanted Rosemary named after them. Less sad that they wouldn't want an experimental chimp (whom they didn't know yet) named after them than that they wouldn't want a disabled granddaughter named after them. Because I can see from their perspectives, they wouldn't automatically see a chimp as a granddaughter, even though Lowell and Rosemary would see her as a sister.

3. Late in the novel, Rosemary's mother tells her, "I wanted you to have an extraordinary life." Was Rosemary's life, in fact, extraordinary? Do you think the experiment carried out was fair to Rosemary? To Fern? How about Lowell? Their parents?

(Note: There's a good Q&A with the author here in which she lists several books written about real-life chimp experiments similar to the fictional one in this novel.)


I think Rosemary's life is unusual in some ways - most people are not raised with a chimp. Although lots of people have traumatic childhoods, and can feel guilt over something in their childhood they don't fully remember, and which wasn't really caused by them, so the trauma element wasn't so unusual - and that is drawn attention to throughout the novel, as other characters refer to traumatic things in their families.

As for fairness, I don't think fairness really exists in life. In many ways, they have a pretty privileged life, as is shown right at the beginning when her father gets Rosemary out of jail. Living with Fern and then having her taken from them was clearly very difficult and traumatic for them, but also gave them some insights and compassion that they wouldn't have otherwise had, and I don't get the impression Rosemary regrets having had Fern in her childhood. Also, when she tells the backstory, it sounds like her parents did what felt right at the time, and if they hadn't taken on Fern, she would probably have died. It's obviously had a really negative impact on Lowell's life, although we don't know how his life would have turned out without Fern.

4. The experience of growing up with Fern and then losing her turns Lowell into an animal-rights activist: to some extent Rosemary, too, by the end of the novel, has adopted this position, though not in as extreme a way as Lowell. Speaking about experimentation on animals, factory farming, and countless other examples of animal suffering, Lowell tells Rosemary: "The world runs ... on the fuel of this endless, fathomless misery. People know it, but they don't mind what they don't see." What do you think about Lowell's statement, about the ways in which animal suffering fuels our human life and culture?

I think it's true that the world does to a large extent run on the fuel of suffering, but not just animal suffering - also human suffering (unless animal suffering includes human suffering), when you think of the many people, including children, working in awful conditions for appalling pay to provide parts for iPads, cheap clothes and food for developed countries, etc.

5. In reflecting years later on the crucial incident where Fern is sent away, Rosemary reflects that she ought to have told her mother: "There was something inside Fern I didn't know." How much is it possible for Rosemary, or any of the human characters, to really "know" Fern or any other animal? What does this suggest to you about what it means to be human? What are the differences between us and other primates, and how important are these differences?

Well, this is something I could relate to. As a child, I often tried to relate to animals as if they were human - I didn't understand the difference, and spent a lot of time trying to teach my guinea pig to talk, for instance! - and I did always encounter this difference, this part of them alien to me, and it was different from differences with other humans. I can understand what Rosemary means when she said she couldn't put it into words other than to say it scared her. It was a sort of 'weirding out' feeling for me as a child, and I can imagine it would be quite terrifying to a child who is actually raised with an animal as her sibling.

6. This question grows out of question #5, and I don't want to lead a Dead Horse into the Heavenly corral, but I can't discuss this book without raising it. Suffice it to say that the book assumes, as most (but not necessarily all) of us will, that humans have evolved from other primates and that humans and chimps share a common ancestor. (Obviously anyone wanting to debate creation vs evolution would need to take that discussion to Dead Horses board). As we reflect on the relationship between humans and other primates, as this novel does, how does this inform the Christian understanding of humans being "created in the image of God"? If you are Christian, do you think we are "in God's image" in a way that Fern, for example, isn't?

I do see a difference between animals and humans, although it is more of an instinctive understanding, based on my experience as a child of trying to relate to animals, and how I relate to animals and humans now, rather than on the Bible (although I am a Christian). I work with children who are non-verbal, who do behaviours that perhaps one would associate more with an animal (like the strong grip thing that Fern does), and yet I can relate to them in a human way - a different way from how I relate to animals. It's very hard to put into words, because it's not something tangible. I don't see speaking and behaviours as the thing that makes us human. It's something else that I can't define.

Having said that, I think animal lives are important, and valued by God, and shouldn't be abused. I think all life should be respected. But I do see animals as different from humans, and I do eat meat, and if I had to choose between saving an animal life and saving a human life, I'd save the human life.

Although I see this attitude/instinct is something the author is challenging, by suggesting it's an animal instinct that all animals have. It's interesting too that Fern sees herself as different from animals - she sees herself as a human, and sees humans as different from animals. She looks down on animals as if she is above them, calling them 'crawling poo'.

7. In the Q&A I linked to above, author Karen Joy Fowler says, "I conceived of the novel as being all about language, who talks and who doesn’t. Who is heard and who isn’t." In your experience as a reader, is this what the novel is about? What else was it about, for you?

I think language, communication and speaking (or not speaking) was an important part of it - although often more the futility of speaking, and how words can be used without meaning anything, or how speaking can be not welcome, or can incriminate you. I found it interesting that Rosemary became quite a silent person and Lowell stopped talking altogether. I wouldn't have said that language was the main thing the novel was about - it seemed to me largely about power, how random it is who has power, the huge impact it can have for positive or negative on someone's life (whether the someone be human or not). Also it seemed to be about trauma and memory.

8. What other questions would you like to raise that I haven't included here? Ask away!

I don't think I have questions as such, but it's interesting that some people don't like Rosemary - she says herself that she is aware that people don't respond well to her. That they see something is 'off' about her, or they just find her annoying. I related to Rosemary quite a bit in some ways, including that way.

I didn't find her annoying at all, but I sometimes got the feeling the author was using Rosemary as a soap-box for her own random and numerous opinions and observations (from vampire books to the importance of libraries to the evils of money). I found that a bit intrusive - even when it was humorous, it didn't really fully seem to be Rosemary's voice, but more the author wanting to make us laugh or to think about something.
 
Posted by Fineline (# 12143) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Trudy Scrumptious:
I hadn't thought about the idea of Rosemary as an unreliable narrator because she conceals that key fact from us for 77 pages. I liked that, because she did it deliberately and told us why she did it, and it added to my sense that she had a specific story she wanted to tell in a specific way. Also, I always assume any first-person narrator is unreliable to some degree anyway, just as we all are in accounts of our own lives.

I find it interesting that Rosemary correctly predicts the various responses that some people clearly have for her! She says when she reveals Fern being a chimp that some readers will be irritated by her 'coyness' for not revealing it earlier. I actually didn't find it deceptive - she was clearly keeping something from us, and had her reasons for doing so, and she explained them openly when she made her revelation, which I respected and understood. I find it's really hard to try to get people to relate to something which seems so very different from their own experience, and you have to sometimes find an equivilent that they relate to, and I think she did this effectively - probably the best way she could.

I guess it's quite a postmodern book in that she is always talking about how she is telling the story! Telling us that she is starting in the middle, for instance, and sometimes saying 'I guess I should have mentioned that earlier'. I liked the bit where she said her dad made a crude joke and that she wasn't going to tell us what it was, because then we'd think less of him, and that thinking less of him was her job! She is quite open with us about the fact that she is being selective with what she tells, and also that she is relying on her memory, which may well be wrong!

I like the combination of her own human casualness, together with information on what psychologists would say to challenge what she is saying, and how she tells us we are free to decide which is right. It's interesting that she never seems to feel the need to defend herself.
 
Posted by Sarasa (# 12271) on :
 
This is an interesting article from the BBC site about monkeys, apes and language. Apologies to anyone who can't follow the links to the programmes mentioned.
 


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