Where are you indeed?
Okay, I fully got swept up in Normal People – the book and tv series….I did not get swept up in Sally Rooney’s new novel, Beautiful World Where are you.
I wanted to like it, I wanted to enjoy it. I just didn’t and really had to persevere to finish the damn thing, it took me more than two weeks, which is unheard of.
Beautiful World where are you tells the stories of two couples.
From the back…
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.
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 have sex, they worry about sex, they worry about their friendships 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?
Okay, Sally Rooney is an excellent writer, I enjoy her prose, I get it. I don’t mind her use of reported speech, it hasn’t bothered me in her previous work; in this book, it did because I didn’t buy into the story, the characters, or their actions so it didn’t hold my attention, meaning having to re-read sections. To put it bluntly, it got to the point where I was so frustrated with Alice, Eileen, Felix and Simon, that I didn’t give shit about them.
I found Felix to be just awful. Alice was clearly vulnerable having recently suffered a break down – the price of fame and overnight success as a novelist. In my opinion Felix took advantage of that, he constantly belittled her and carried out quite a few character assassinations on her. I was stunned it took her so long to say something about it, I didn’t understand why, if he thought she was so terrible and intimidating, he wanted to be around her?
I just thinking, “Alice hunny, I’m not sure why you’re plugging away at this. No one needs tearing down this often”.
I lost patience with the other couple Eileen and Simon.
They’ve known each other since childhood. Are clearly in love with each other. Have slept together in the past. Both are kind of at a point where they can actually make a go of it and Eileen spends the entire book leading him on, having sex with him, getting cold feet and saying, “I think we should just be friends”. I understood her worries about ruining their friendship etc but by the third trip on this cycle I’d got past exasperation and I couldn’t have cared less about whether they got together or not, I was bored.
Finally, I didn’t really get the friendship between Alice and Eileen. So, the two communicate through lengthy emails to each other bemoaning the state of the world, art, culture, everything. It just didn’t feel realistic to me. I couldn’t understand what either got from the friendship, it felt resentful and forced in places.
I know this is a book all about the complexities of relationships and friendships. I know it’s about people in their early 30s trying to work out what they want or, in Eileen’s case, wondering why she hasn’t managed to get her life together yet. I know that’s something a lot of people deal with, and I have been able to relate to those worries in characters in other books but here I didn’t.
Maybe it’s because I didn’t like the characters, maybe it’s because I’m not as cynical as Alice and Eileen (that’s saying something) or maybe it’s because I can’t relate to those worries and anxieties anymore, which I’m grateful for.
For all the hype around Beautiful world where are you, I was left disappointed. Maybe that’s just me, I’d be interested to hear other people’s thoughts.
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