Wednesday, 10 November 2021


"Alice, a novelist, meets Felix, who works in a warehouse, and asks him if he'd like to travel to Rome with her. In Dublin, her best friend Eileen is getting over a break-up and slips back into flirting with Simon, a man she has known since childhood.

Alice, Felix, Eileen and Simon are still young - but life is catching up with them. They desire each other, they delude each other, they get together, they break apart. They worry about sex and friendship and the world they live in. Are they standing in the last lighted room before the darkness, bearing witness to something? Will they find a way to believe in a beautiful world?"

It can't be easy being a successful author. I suppose it should make me count my lucky stars that in terms of sales and world reputation, not many people are going to notice what I write and, of those that do, mind what my next book is about or what style I've chosen. 

In the case of Sally Rooney, I'm sure the pressure to produce an outstanding novel was significant and much-felt. Conversations With Friends and Normal People have been among my favourite reads of the last decade. While reading each story, I was struck by my emotional involvement as well as by the stunning beauty and occasional brutality of the prose. And I certainly wasn't the only one who felt that way. Apart from the other millions of fans, my teenage daughters also loved them and would discuss them at great length. 

The latest arrival, Beautiful World, Where Are You? was much anticipated in our household and my daughters and I have all read it now. Though we're not entirely in agreement, two of us really enjoyed it but not as much as either Conversations With Friends and Normal People and one was as delighted by it as she'd hoped. 

This time we get to join the relationships of four people who are linked in different ways to form a cat's cradle of connections between each other. On the whole, these relationships are not simple. Some are rooted in childhood and others in teenage years. As with all histories, there are complications, confusions and huge loyalties to deal with. These are histories that entirely influence the present, even to newcomers to their lives. The consequences of them can be positive and negative and, because of this, create a turbulence at every move. Each action has a reaction, each word and nuance a ripple in the world. 

The structure sees alternate chapters from the point of view of Alice and Eileen, while sandwiched between are email communications between the two. This works well in the beginning, but as the story progressed became somewhat obstructive the flow. The email sections, while incorporating plenty of character revelations and showing some of the strengths and flaws of the friendship, also take on a philosophical and political debate that I may well not be intelligent enough to have fully understood. It's interesting and is likely to be very important to the thrust and meaning of the novel, but it was generally an aspect that knocked me from my stride. It may be that I could search for other reviews to help me get a foothold into it's purpose (for purpose there must surely be), and a such a grasp may knock up my opinion a notch, but I would have been happier if this had been cut back a little. It's a small gripe, because I still loved the read, so I hope it doesn't put anyone off having a go. 

I suppose the reason I found that structure difficult is that when the characters are living their lives it's engrossing and compelling. The flashes of the poetic and the ebb and flow of their lives, the extreme lifestyles and the examination of the change into early adulthood, the examination of madness and self-doubt and of deviation from perceived norms all simmer away and over-boil nicely. The email sections gently put the brakes on this eventually had an impact.  

Overall, I recommend it to all. The pleasures (and pains) outweigh the issues (my issues) and even with an ending that I wanted more from, it's still top notch. 

Not that it matters, my favourite character was Felix. Just saying. 

And where is the beautiful world? I'm not sure if it's always out of reach or it's the place we spend every day. I reckon it's both. What do you say? 

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