Beautiful World, Where Are You – Sally Rooney (Faber & Faber, $32.99)
Reviewed by Louise Ward, Wardini Books
Sally Rooney's writing is populated by the most irritating, overthinking, self-absorbed characters you could hope to meet. It is this, I think, that makes them so real, so relatable, so likeable.
Alice is the author of two wildly successful novels, one of which has been made into a film (much like Sally Rooney, although she denies that this is auto-fiction). She's had a breakdown and is living in the countryside, ignoring her friends, dwelling on how much she hates the fame she never asked for.
Alice meets Felix on Tinder. He's uneducated, doesn't read, parties hard and works in a warehouse. He is the most erudite and observant of all the characters in the book.
Alice's best friend, Eileen, has been in love with their other best friend, Simon, since she was 15 and he, 20. She tortures their relationship with fear of its failure, staying in the 'friend zone', tiptoeing around conversations that she and Simon need to have.
Is this how young people behave, analysing everything from their own viewpoint? If so, Rooney observes and paints this beautifully. The things they do and don't say are infuriating and their reliance on sex as communication (I want this, I don't want that) is obfuscating to the depth and true nature of their relationship.
This is a novel of the inner life. Email exchanges between Alice and Eileen are meandering treatises on language, thought, modern life, celebrity culture, insanity. Things don't happen — they are discussed.
One of the most enjoyable facets of the novel for me is reading multiple viewpoints on one page, watching what Felix is thinking and doing at work just as Alice is thinking and doing stuff at home. Fascinating.
It's a touching novel because this is what people can be like. We love our friends but they drive us mad, too. I now know Alice, Eileen, Felix and Simon – I've been to the pub with them, consoled them, thrown my hands in the air at their navel-gazing behaviours.
This is incredibly powerful writing. Rooney has done it again, and will probably hate the attention she receives because of it.