25 September 2021

Beautiful World, Where Are You? by Sally Rooney

I was so excited to finally be on the Sally Rooney train when her book is actually new. I have been late to the party on Normal People and Conversations with Friends, so it was fun to go to the bookstore on the release date. I don't love hardcover, but I could not wait months for a paperback copy. I read this quickly because I enjoyed it so, so much.

Rooney gets so much media attention because she is one of the most popular and critically acclaimed writers of the "new generation." I love reading her books because the characters are almost always my exact age. Rooney herself was born in 1991 - same as me and Meg. 

This book looks at four different characters - Alice, Eileen, Simon, and Felix - but focuses mostly on the two women. In-between chapters are email correspondences between Alice and Eileen - university friends who are now living in separate cities. The emails are ramblings on current events and their love lives, and I found a lot of their observations funny. My favourite is from Eileen when she is talking about something she doesn't want to do:

It's probably very character-building, and by the time we see one another again I'll have a really amazing personality." 

Alice is a successful author who is living in the Irish countryside after having a mental breakdown. She is critical of her success and wealth, and is easily associated with a stand-in for Rooney. I'm sure she would hate this comparison, but it's impossible for people not to make it. She meets Felix (a factory worker living in the same town) and she randomly invites him to Rome for a press tour she is on. Their relationship is confrontational and slow to warm up.

Eileen is living in Dublin and working as a copy editor. Her storyline follows her relationship with Simon (a fellow she has been close with her entire life who is a little bit older than her). They have a less defined relationship early in the book. The biggest complaint I have about the book is that Simon seems a little too perfect and it's hard to understand why Eileen hasn't jumped at the chance for a relationship with him.

So of course in the midst of everything, the state of the world being what it is, humanity on the cusp of extinction, here I am writing another email about sex and friendship. What else is there to live for?"

Sally Rooney (should I get bangs again?)

My favourite part about Rooney's writing is how current it feels. She isn't stuffing current cultural references into her writing to make it relevant. She writes about the technology young people use in such a realistic way ... no one is sending texts like "wat r u up 2?" How these characters move through their day-to-day life is what I love reading about ... what they make for dinner, where they go out with friends, and when they use social media. 

A standout for Beautiful World, Where Are You for me was the friendship between Alice and Eileen. Like any real friendship, they say rude things to each other in their virtual communication and aren't always around when the other needs them. The distance between them is obviously straining their relationship, and I love how the climactic argument is written. Eileen's shitty behaviour is painfully relatable. 

For a time they sat there on the stairs, not speaking, or speaking absently about things that had happened a long time ago, silly arguments they'd had, people they used to know, things they had laughed about together. Old conversations, repeated many times before." 

This quotation made me so happy and sad at the same time. Meg and I have lived apart for so much longer now than we've lived in the same place. I found this passage so relatable, especially when so much of your friendship is based around a particular time in your life. It made me miss her so much.

I would highly recommend this book. I am already lending it out to a few friends. I know there's a lot of push back against Sally Rooney because she is so popular, but I've enjoyed all three of her books so far. 

This will likely top my best of the year! 

No comments:

Post a Comment