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Beautiful World, Where are You?

by Sally Rooney

faber & faber

It’s no secret – I am a huge Sally Rooney fan!   Normal People has triggered so many interesting conversations and this new book is no different.  Genius at portraying complicated humans and missed connections, Sally Rooney has her finger on the pulse of young people terrified of saying what they really feel, or knowing what they really feel, afraid of looking like a fool and being exposed on social media.  She captures conflicts between friends and lovers so well and seems to have a fresh take on life in the 2020’s for millennials – not surprising as she’s only just turned 30 herself.  Although the themes she covers are universal, the book is very delightfully Irish.  It sold over 40,000 copies in its first week!  I loved it.

Alice, a best-selling novelist (fame has taken her by surprise and she’s not quite managing it), meets Felix, who works in a warehouse (a rebel without a cause), and asks him if he’d like to travel to Rome with her. In Dublin, her best friend, Eileen in a dead-end job (who can’t understand why Alice wants to live in a small seaside town and not Dublin) is getting over a break-up and slips back into flirting with Simon (a saver of the world’s lost lambs), a man she has known and who has been kind to her 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. Alice and Eileen, who’s friendship is being tested, reach out to each other in long, meandering emails about their lives, their loves, their issues, their worries, their quest for success and the latest global concerns which threaten to overwhelm them.

The title, Beautiful World, Where Are You, is a literal translation from a Friedrich Schiller’s poem published in 1788.  Apparently, the poem laments the passing of a supposedly happier, carefree life, moving into a new age of greater hardship.  Rooney’s gift is that she makes the reader care deeply about her characters.  I suspect, like me, you’ll be willing them to make the right decisions, to say what they’re really feeling and to take a leap of faith.  Will they find a way to believe in a beautiful world?

It’s a testament to Rooney’s curious, cerebral gifts as a writer that she not only draws her readers into tolerating long stretches of ruminations but makes them so entertaining. We feel we’re in good company with our own end-time anxieties . . . In this ambitious novel of sentiment and ideas, which is so up to the minute in its global concerns, Rooney ironically reaches back to one of the oldest forms of the novel, the epistolary or letter form, to tell her story. – NPR

The book moved me to tears more than once – The Times (UK)

a touching honesty and truthfulness in these pages, along with a quiet brilliance. – Financial Times

Rooney is masterful at finding profound meaning in the quotidian, in ramping up the tension and heightening the stakes in the most microscopic of interactions. The pages fly as fast as in any thriller to find out if these four young adults can figure out how and why to live. – USA Today

Rooney’s new book may just cement her status as a leading voice of the millennial generation – Harper’s Bazaar 

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