Four adults, muddling their way through life, love and friendship. Alice is a successful author, recently returned to Ireland from New York. She meets Felix on Tinder, and arranges to meet him for a drink in the local bar. Felix works in a warehouse, that he hates. Alice’s best friend Eileen lives in Dublin. She’s recently single and depends a little bit too much on her friend Simon, who she has known and secretly loved since childhood. Simon is the politician of the group, a regular church goer and can always be counted on to turn up when needed.
Beautiful World, Where Are You tells the story of this unlikely mix of people, in the way that only Sally Rooney can. I should have loved it – I really enjoyed both of her previous novels, and have read Normal People more than once, but sadly, this novel just didn’t really do it for me.
Let me be clear – this is not a bad novel, it just wasn’t for me. I had such high expectations for this, especially having loved Rooney’s other work, and it just felt a bit disappointing.
There are a few reasons why I didn’t love it – firstly, I just did not like the characters of Alice and Felix. I know they say opposites attract etc etc but I just didn’t believe them as a couple – even as a hook up. I found that Alice was constantly ‘putting up with’ Felix’s behaviour, and I couldn’t find a redeeming quality in him that would justify it. Their whole dynamic irritated me, and I found myself impatiently reading through their chapters. I found Alice to be very difficult to take to – she was just too self indulgent and self destructive. Felix on the other hand was too shallow and too willing to hurt Alice for no particular reason.
Honestly, I could have done without them completely.
I did like Eileen, and I enjoyed reading as the relationship between herself and Simon progressed. I found myself really rooting for them, and getting so frustrated at all their bad timing. I think I found Eileen so much more relatable than Alice, far more down to earth and self aware than her friend. I would have loved to have more of Eileen’s story, both on her own and with Simon – I would have happily read a novel just about their relationship.
That being said, I’ve seen many great reviews of this book, and I can see why people enjoyed it, it just didn’t do it for me this time. I probably will re-read it at some point, and could possibly change my mind, but for the time being, it’s my least favourite of Rooney’s novels.
It is undeniably a Sally Rooney novel – from the writing style to the subject matter – not once does she shy away from writing about things that might make some other authors (or readers) uncomfortable. She brings her characters through a whole plethora of emotions, and this is something that makes her novels very real, and raw, and is one of the reasons her books resonate with so many people. She knows her characters, and she makes them flawed, and scarred, and oftentimes, you can see a bit of yourself reflected in them.
This novel is no different – it is well written, it is well thought out, and it is a realistic story of how life is for the twenty and thirty something year olds today. I can’t take that away from the book – sadly, this time, it just didn’t work for me. Hopefully her next novel, whenever that is written, will do what this one didn’t.
I rate Beautiful World, Where Are You 3 out of 5 stars.