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Beautiful World, Where Are You: A Novel (Paperback)
Rooney gets more controversial with every new book, but let me just start by saying whether or not you find her Marxism sincere, or if you believe she’s really some kind of avatar of the millennial voice, or whether she lets herself off the hook too soon or too often, you will still enjoy this book.
Beautiful World Where Are You is the most overtly political of Rooney’s novels and personally, I appreciated the lack of artifice in the way she incorporated it. Alice and Eileen, both of whom we can consider stand-ins for Rooney, write long emails to each other that, even as they meander, are dense with substance. Their ruminations on the collapse of the Bronze age have charmed just about every reviewer, it seems, but they write cogently about other things we all think about too: the morality of bearing children on a planet that is chugging along right on schedule to become uninhabitable; whether there’s any utility in art and literature and if there even should be; whether it’s possible to justify writing about sex and relationships when there’s so much worse in the world to care about; whether wealth can ever be okay.
Alice and Eileen are clipped and funny in the way they talk about these things, with the rapid fluency of a particular type of college education, but also a particular type of lonely childhood, which adds an element of neediness to their relationship, on both sides. Both are dating men: Eileen is seeing an on-again, off-again childhood friend; and Alice is dating a man she met on Tinder after moving to a dramatically large rectory in the Irish countryside. It becomes clear that the events of the novel will cause the four characters to converge in Alice’s new home, all leading to the question of what will happen to these relationships, beset as they are with financial inequality, and the innately problematic nature of heterosexuality.
Beautiful World, Where Are You very deliberately puts itself in the uncomfortable position of making a case for its own existence, and while she doesn’t offer any concrete solutions, it is, as always, a delight to read her as she works through her ideas.
—Sarah, Longfellow Books— From Sarah Recommends!
September 2021 Indie Next List
“Another incredible story! The characters are vibrant and familiar, and the intimate moments are uniquely painted. It’s as if a close friend is confessing their life to you and you are seeing yourself in it.”
— Katie Kenney, Bank Square Books, Mystic, CT
AN INSTANT #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
Beautiful World, Where Are You is a new novel by Sally Rooney, the bestselling author of Normal People and Conversations with Friends
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 breakup, 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?
About the Author
Sally Rooney is an Irish novelist. She is the author of Conversations with Friends and Normal People. She also contributed to the writing and production of the Hulu/BBC television adaptation of Normal People.
A September Indie Next Pick
“[Rooney’s] writing about sex is taut and direct. It’s a narrative style I associate with the films of Andrew Haigh and Joanna Hogg, two great visual poets of social anxiety and reticence. Rooney’s dialogue is frequently perfect . . . Beautiful World, Where Are You is Rooney’s best novel yet."
—Brandon Taylor, The New York Times Book Review
“A tour de force. The dialogue never falters, and the prose burns up the page.”
—Anne Enright, The Guardian
“The book moved me to tears more than once . . . Rooney’s best novel.”
—James Marriott, The Times (UK)
“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 such 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.”
—Maureen Corrigan, NPR’s Fresh Air
“Even more moving than Normal People or Conversations with Friends . . . Beautiful World, Where Are You is still very dialectical and Marxist and interested in political debates. Yet it is also a love letter to the novel as a form of art—and, by extension, to the ways in which human beings relate to one another . . . Beautiful World, Where Are You is a love letter to all of us, to all the ways we love.”
—Constance Grady, Vox
“Rooney hammers out the problems and promises of contemporary novels and contemporary life—all while reminding us of her distinctive style’s disarming intimacies . . . This is Rooney stepping into herself as a fully-formed artist, ready to defend the validity and originality of her methods . . . Beautiful World combines the intricacies of Rooney’s lightning-rod style, like her deep well of sympathy for her characters and her precise economy of language, with a growing maturity.”
—Adrienne Westenfeld, Esquire
“This is a book that insists on the power of enduring relationships and also on their difficulty . . . Beautiful World, Where Are You offers the same pleasures as Rooney’s previous novels, and, in the discursive emails that Alice and Eileen exchange, the additional pleasure of her voice as an essayist . . . A forceful case for caring about such seemingly insignificant matters as ‘whether people break up or stay together.’”
—Molly Fischer, The Cut
“Rooney’s strongest writing thus far . . . There is a touching honesty and truthfulness in these pages, along with a quiet brilliance.”
—Diana Evans, Financial Times
“Brilliantly done: gripping, steamy, unbearably sad.”
—Susannah Goldsbrough, The Telegraph
“Beautiful World, Where Are You is Rooney’s most buoyant and best work . . . Rooney gives her characters, herself, and the reader permission to feel the full range of the often-embarrassing emotions that come with loving and liking other people, despite impending doom, knowing that chaos and hope and stupidity all exist, messily, together.”
—Sophia June, Nylon
“Wise, romantic, and ultimately consoling . . . It’s a pleasure to read smart women courting each other’s love and admiration . . . Like any serious artist she takes whatever material she’s handed and makes meaning from it.”
—Hermione Hoby, 4Columns
“Reading the Rooney corpus in sequence feels like watching the characters grow up and mature into a life of complicated interpersonal relationships. Rooney’s special skill is the ability to place readers at eye level with her characters and plot, to sneak them into the world of her story as a participant in the room . . . She pulls the reader in with her famously unadorned sentences and creates an intimacy akin to peering over the characters’ shoulders.”
—Kyung Mi Lee, The Boston Globe
“Delightfully dirty at times and compulsively readable . . . Though it admittedly feels wickedly satisfying to be caught once again in Rooney’s web of friendship-courtship entanglements, the pining glances, wounded squabbles and even the raunchy, sexy scenes aren’t the reasons to read Beautiful World . . . Instead, it’s what Rooney does with the other chapters — probing letters between Alice and Eileen—that feels so experimental and exciting.”
—Alexis Burling, San Francisco Chronicle
“In failing to look for the nation in these books, we fail to see Rooney’s stories in all their richness . . . The book’s Irishness is like its professional jealousies or its sexual tensions: bottled up for almost too long, then relieved in one moment . . . Rooney’s books happen in a particular place. Her study of relationships is all the more rewarding when you give that place a name. Its name is Ireland: Sally Rooney is Irish.”
—Sean O’Neill, Gawker
“[Sally Rooney’s] most overtly personal work yet . . . As someone drifting ever-nearer to 30 myself, Beautiful World resonated in a way that Rooney’s earlier works did not. That said, teetering on the cusp of your thirties is hardly a prerequisite for reading the novel . . . There's a weight, an urgency that grounds Alice and Eileen's narratives, and it's the same weight and urgency every one of us has been living with for the past 18 months.”
—Isabel Jones, InStyle
“Extremely well-written longing. Three novels in, and it’s still what Rooney does best: ensnare us over and over in the jet-fueled heat between good-looking (and supernaturally articulate) Irish youths . . . Each sentence builds like a brushstroke: on its own, any particular line can seem pedestrian. Assembled together, we get whole scenes of otherwise banal parties and bus rides, glances cast and bodies rearranged, all rendered to a storybook-like effect.”
—Delia Cai, Vanity Fair
“Fundamentally [Sally Rooney’s] books are pleasurable to read . . . Beautiful World, Where Are You contains enough innovation—stylistic playfulness, a new, more cerebral mode, a variation in perspective—to signal that she is trying new things.”
—Katie Roiphe, The Wall Street Journal
“[Sally Rooney’s] third consecutive banger after Normal People and Conversations with Friends, an intimate and piercingly smart story about sex and friendship . . . 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.”
—Barbara VanDenburgh, USA Today
“I would gladly read any glimmer of [Rooney’s] thoughts refracted through a character . . . When you spend a lot of time thinking about how civilization is declining and Earth is burning, it becomes clear that there are some rare joys, and that horniness is one of them. Rooney would not write so carefully about sex if she didn’t see intrinsic value in pleasure, in gratifying the senses during our one spin on the planet.”
—Blythe Robertson, Bustle
“I abandon books like a drunken sailor and in another mood, I might have tossed Rooney overboard. But then, there it was, on page 40: a sentence of such exquisite bitterness that it cut my sweet summer day in half. Was there more where that came from? I simply had to know . . . Gentle, intense, emotional . . . The plot is pretty Austenian: A bunch of people become mutually enlightened about the true nature of themselves and each other.”
—Molly Young, Vulture
“In many ways, this book, a work of both philosophy and romantic tragicomedy about the ways people love and hurt one another, is exactly the type of book one would expect Rooney to write out of the political environment of the past few years. But just because the novel is so characteristic of Rooney doesn’t take anything away from its considerable power . . . A novel of capacious intelligence and plenty of page-turning emotional drama.”
"A cool, captivating story . . . Rooney establishes a distance from her characters’ inner lives, creating a sense of privacy even as she describes Alice and Eileen’s most intimate moments. It’s a bold change to her style, and it makes the illuminations all the more powerful when they pop. As always, Rooney challenges and inspires.”
—Publishers Weekly (Starred)
“Writing with her trademark truthfulness and wit, Rooney compels with both these meta-conversations and the actions of her characters’ lives: their enthralling, intimate, and consequential grappling with themselves, with one another, and with beauty, sex, and friendship. Rooney's first novel since Normal People, which became a popular and award-winning Hulu series, is steadily drawing excitement.”
“Keen and tersely delivered observations about the follies of youth, sex, and friendships.”
—Adam Price, The Millions (Most Anticipated)
“As much as she resists the title, Rooney’s new book may just cement her status as a leading voice of the millennial generation.
—Harper’s Bazaar (Most Anticipated)
—Emily Temple, Lit Hub (Most Anticipated)
“Instead of latching onto hardships, digging through them until every last nuance has been overturned and all the trauma and tragedy has been exhausted, Rooney carries her readers and characters through them in realistic portrayals of the way time and life don’t wait for people to recover . . . For those who have yet to hop on the Sally Rooney bandwagon, it’s never too late.” —Oriana Christ, Zyzzyva