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?
A woman sat in a hotel bar, watching the door. Her appearance was neat and tidy: white blouse, fair hair tucked behind her ears. She glanced at the screen of her phone, on which was displayed a messaging interface, and then looked back at the door again. It was late March, the bar was quiet, and outside the window to her right the sun was beginning to set over the Atlantic. It was four minutes past seven, and then five, six minutes past. Briefly and with no perceptible interest she examined her fingernails. At eight minutes past seven, a man entered through the door. He was slight and dark-haired, with a narrow face. He looked around, scanning the faces of the other patrons, and then took his phone out and checked the screen. The woman at the window noticed him but, beyond watching him, made no additional effort to catch his attention. They appeared to be about the same age, in their late twenties or early thirties. She let him stand there until he saw her and came over.
solid, good read:
Beautiful World, Where Are You is told in many different ways, making it very different to Normal People and Conversations with Friends. Parts are told through long rambling emails between Alice and Eileen. Parts are what you’d expect from Rooney: dialogue and interactions between characters that sometimes act friendly and sometimes with animosity. And parts have a movie-like quality, where you’re the observer and facial expressions are described but not explained, the motivations behind actions are considered but not clarified, and characters get to keep their secrets.
A lot of the emails between Eileen and Alice are incredibly self-indulgent. Especially in the beginning and especially when discussing politics or religion, I found myself skimming a lot. It may have been a case of too much too soon, before I cared enough about these characters, but I definitely found them less enjoyable than the other parts of the book.
The dialogue and interactions were my favourite parts of Beautiful World, Where Are You, though I also appreciated the cinema-style excerpts. They gave a little backstory, added some intrigue and mystery, and were sometimes so frustrating I wanted to shake Eileen and tell her to smarten up. Or Simon and get him to use his words. Alice and Felix were more difficult characters for me. Alice remains mostly a mystery, but Felix would swing wildly from favourite to worst character, and I’m not entirely positive where I landed.
Though I did enjoy his attempts to flirt with Simon. That was just fun.
Their relationship had a very strange dynamic that was uncomfortable at times but also had sweet and tender moments, admittedly few and far between.
I can understand how Rooney could be polarising; something about her writing is alienating. Most books hold you close and attempt to keep you engrossed, while Rooney seems to actively be pushing you away. Will you stay if she says this? Will this observation finally make you look away? Will this despicable action make you avert your eyes? I absolutely love it. After reading her three novels, I can confidently claim her as an auto-buy author for me. I’m not sure what this says about me as a person, but her style of writing and her observations hit just right for me.
I’m struggling to rate Beautiful World, Where Are You, but I think I skimmed too much of the emails to be able to go higher than four stars. The parts I didn’t skim through, though, are worth five stars for sure.