Books & Literature

Book Review: Beautiful World, Where Are You, by Sally Rooney

LITERARY FICTION: Alice, a novelist, meets Felix, who works in a distribution 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.

A thought-provoking novel that explores super-relevant thoughts and concepts.

Normal People author Sally Rooney has been proclaimed the first great millennial novelist. Her latest work, Beautiful World, Where Are You, features the same all-star writing and well-crafted characters that her fans have grown to expect.

The is the story of two friends, Alice and Eileen, who correspond with one another via email as they navigate love, sex, and life’s big questions in their late 20s. Naturally more driven by character than by plot, the book is hard to put down at certain times, particularly during the climactic and simmering exchanges between the main characters.

The protagonists, plus their love interests Simon and Felix, are fully fleshed out so that they feel real. They’re not always relatable or likeable (you, Felix), but they do hold the reader’s interest. It was easy to root for the relationships that developed and evolved, both romantic and platonic. The friendship between Alice and Eileen was perhaps the most thought-provoking as the author slowly feeds us more details into their history as the events unfold.

There is background information provided for each character, but I was left wanting even more explanation for their motivations to act the way they do. For example, Eileen’s complex relationship with Simon may have been less frustrating if it were easier to understand her reasons for constantly pushing him away despite her feelings for him.

Much of the protagonists’ feelings are revealed in their emails to one another, while the conversations that each woman has in real life are contrastingly less honest. The details in the emails are perhaps among the most fascinating, while the verbal conversations are painfully awkward at times.

Some readers may find that Rooney’s inclusion of minutiae weighs the text down, but I found it made the story more immersive; reading about the trivial particulars that I would see in everyday life made it feel like I was right there with the characters going about their lives.

Rooney explores several stimulating themes in the book, ranging from climate anxiety to capitalism to consumerism. The conversations that Alice and Felix have around falling in love without taking gender into account are particularly uplifting and eye-opening.

The lack of quotation marks and lack of paragraphs was difficult to get used to, but the reading experience did get easier. By the end of the novel, this style actually made the text seem more immediate. The characters were written so well that there was no question about who was saying what, even where there were no tags.

Beautiful World, Where Are You is a thought-provoking novel that explores thoughts and concepts that are super-relevant to modern readers, particularly those trying to navigate their own relationships.

Reviewed by Vanessa Elle
Instagram: @vanessaellewrites

Distributed by:  Allen & Unwin
Released: 7 September 2021
RRP: $39.99

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