IMG_1214_edited.jpg

bookends

 
 
  • bookends

Review: Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney

So even though I had heard mixed reviews about this novel, I am pleased to report that I very much enjoyed it! Although I did have to sit with it for a couple of days before I was able to formulate my thoughts about it in any meaningful way.


Very basically, this is the story of Eileen and Alice, who met at university and are figuring out how to manage the transition from their twenties to their thirties. The story alternates between Eileen and Alice's POVs, intercut with their (very literary) emails to each other (Eileen lives in Dublin, Alice somewhere in the country by the sea; I am really not up on my Irish geography and also could never be arsed to look it up, no one @ me).


I have a pet theory that the reason Sally Rooney is so commercially successful but doesn't get any of the praise in the literary criticism circles because she writes about things that are considered the superficial interests of young women: female friendships, sex, dating, the complicated relationship we have with the fear of being lonely. But because her subject matter is considered 'female' or 'lesser' (if anybody is interested in my long, long rant about how sexist literature categories actually are, please do let me know, I could go for hours) we all ignore the fact that she's got a very lovely, very crisp, very precise style of prose that, were she a man writing about man's issues, means she would have already won all of the prizes going. Sexism!


Anyway, like I said at the top, I initially had mixed feelings about this book but the more I've sat with it since finishing it the more I realize I actually quite liked it. It didn't quite live up to my expectation that it would be one of the best books I would read this year, but I very much enjoyed the process of reading this book and the world that Rooney built. All the best qualities of her writing style are on show here: crisp, precise prose that tells you exactly what it is the author wants you to know, conveys exactly the mental image or the experience or the weight of a moment or a place that the author means to convey, with not a single word or punctuation mark out of place.


I think the story is perhaps what lets this novel down a bit, more so than the writing style - I was much more invested in the storyline of one of the two women (Eileen, in case you're wondering, because I really quite identified with the way Eileen approaches her interpersonal relationships and works and yes, I will be bringing this up with a therapist) and I think Eileen felt a bit more fully fleshed out as a character because Alice was just a bit too autobiographical and so felt a bit too much like a psychological insert into the novel. But maybe that's because I could more wholeheartedly identify with Eileen's story of a woman who struggles as an almost-thirty-something who doesn't handle loneliness very well, whereas I cannot identify with Alice's struggles with success and fame (success? Who's she? Never met her).


I really loved the structure of alternating the POV chapters with the emails. The emails gave us extra glimpses into Alice and Eileen's psyches, and created an interesting balance between how they see themselves and how the world sees them (since their POV chapters are third-person narrations). I also really enjoyed the fact that all four of the central characters (Alice and Eileen and their respective boyfriends, who as boring men I did not bother retaining their names because they did not deserve to be remembered) are fully-fledged, real people who are also terrible and have absolutely petty, stroppy, bratty fights that made me want to shake them through the book and shout "Oh God, get over yourselves you two!" It just felt very accurate and immersive, and because the structure was so interesting and the overall narrative arc of the novel was so neat, still felt appropriately escapist while remaining true to life.


Some quick mentions of other things I enjoyed: the conflict of modern-day life and old-fashioned religious beliefs (subplot for one of The Boyfriends; the most interesting thing about the men) and the fact that the timeline of the story was bookended by the pandemic without this being a pandemic novel. Please, dear God, do not give us in 2021-2022 the onslaught of the pandemic novel. We've lived through it in real life, why would you impose it on us in fiction?


Anyway, there you have it - a good book that you can sink into in one sitting, but it is a book that gets better on reflection and I think would stand up to a reread. Would recommend.


Happy reading,

Amélie xx

9 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
pride%20and%20prejudice_edited.jpg

About

I’m Amélie, I love books and reading, and I also love talking about them.

I’m incredibly lucky to be bilingual, so I read books in both French and English, and will talk about both of those on here – although I will do more in English, since I know that’s probably what the majority of the people who ever find this blog will be interested in!

I also like history, traveling, Shakespeare, coffee, cheese, musicals, Italian Baroque art, the ballet, Mock the Week and Have I Got News For You, flowers, makeup, high heels, and baking. Yes, I’m a walking cliché. I am aware.

Please do tweet at me with any suggestions/book recommendations/thoughts.

In case you’re curious – yes, Pride and Prejudice is my favorite book of all time.