Sally Rooney is one of the authors that I have first read in 2020, and have read all of her novels published so far. (You can read all of those reviews on this website) Even though I had some issues with her works, I thoroughly enjoyed her stories and writing style. Her newest novel ‘Beautiful World, Where Are You’ is just the same, in terms of my enjoyment of it. I must say that I have enjoyed it even more than ‘Normal People’ as the structure was somewhat different, but still kept all the elements of a typical Rooney novel.
As I mentioned the structure of the novel is somewhat different as it follows two friends Alice and Eileen who live in separate cities in Ireland while also keeping correspondence through emails that the readers are privy to. In the chapters dedicated to each character, the readers learn more about them as characters while also following each of them developing romantic relationships. This structure was quite successful, as emails allows us a glimpse into their internal worlds given that they are written in first person and are more honest, while other chapters are written in third person narration and provide the narrative of the story. Rooney uses these emails between two friends who are somewhat different and hold different views to discuss controversial and profound topics in more depth. Additionally, I found all the voices in the novel equally intriguing and did not have any sections that I preferred more, which sometimes happens. Rooney respects her readers enough to not give all the information immediately, but the context is visible and easily followed through the characters, their thoughts and their interaction with each other.
Another reason I enjoyed this novel more than others by Rooney is because of the characters. First of all, they are all quite likable to me, even when presented in their worst. They felt very real 30 something year olds who are just doing their best in a crazy world that often tears them down. As I am 27 years old, I felt like I could relate to their specific struggles more than the struggles of Marianne and Connell from ‘Normal People’. By saying this, I do not wish to diminish their struggles and path, just saying that they were quite young and did not have as much experience as characters in this novel. For example, in ‘Normal People’, they often fell victims to miscommunication, but I did not feel like that was the case here as much. In fact, in most cases, the problems they have get resolved in a reasonable time frame through communication, and it felt refreshing to read it. This does not mean that they are all perfect trauma free characters, quite the opposite really. A lot of times, things they would say made me cringe, frown and laugh, but at least I did not scream at the book characters ‘Just talk to each other, damn it!’ which was nice.
Some typical Rooney topics are present here as well, such as the difference in class between characters. For example, out of the four characters, two were from upper classes, while two were from working class. The implications and the differences in lifestyle that this brings about are discussed in a tasteful way, showing that while class belonging is important, it is not the only thing relevant about the person. However, the class and wealth difference does play a part in the relationships depicted in the novel.
Speaking of relationships, I really enjoyed reading about their inception and development overall. Rooney is a master of writing about people’s relationships, not just romantic, but also withing family and friendships. ‘Beautiful World, Where Are You’ is filled with beautiful and complex relationships between beautiful and complex people who are all honestly just doing their best. It seemed that Rooney understood the wealthy author Alice struggling with her mental health just as much as she understood somebody like Felix, who is quite different from her. Similarly, she gives a lot of room for the main four characters to express themselves and speak their mind, allowing them to develop. The lack of room for the two other main characters in ‘Conversation with Friends’ was one of the main issues I had with that novel. Another good aspect of the fact the characters are older and more mature in some ways is the depiction of sex scenes. There are not many of them, but they are written tastefully and are genuinely enjoyable. I love how much emphasis Rooney puts on the importance of mutual consent and pleasure of both partners and it was quite amazing to read such realistic sex scenes between two consenting adults.
If you would ask me what is the plot of the novel, I would not know what to tell you as there is not much happening in terms of classic plot. There are plenty of cause and effect events throughout the novel, that culminates in an argument. But, argument is not as dramatic or as big as I thought it would be and it is resolved fairly quickly(again, through characters talking to each other and trying to say what is on their mind) and the novel has a happy ending. I really did not mind this at all because I was so drawn into the relationships and wanted them all to work out so bad. I also did not mind the positive ending, where it seemed that the protagonists are generally in a better place than they were at the start of the novel and that they are doing better.
Overall, I enjoyed ‘Beautiful World, Where Are You’ quite a lot. Like other novels by Rooney, it is a deceptively simple story about four 30 something year olds and their relationships, but it has a lot of depth and leaves a lot to think about. In my opinion this is the most successful work by Rooney so far. Did you read this ‘Beautiful World, Where Are You’? Did you read anything else by Rooney? What were your thoughts? Let me know.