February Book Club: Beautiful World, Where Are You
Welcome to our February book club choice!
Naturally, any new Sally Rooney book receives a lot of acclaim, after her stratospheric success with Conversations with Friends and Normal People. Therefore I went into her latest offering, which was released in September last year to people queueing outside bookshops with Harry Potter levels of fervour, with some trepidation. However, I needn’t have worried. Beautiful World, Where Are You is easily my favourite Rooney book to date.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know that Rooney is somewhat of a literary superstar. The TV adaptation of her second novel Normal People was a smash hit during the first UK lockdown, and she is praised for her fresh, intelligent take on millennial life and the struggles of love and friendship in the 21st Century. Her writing manages to be both insightfully beautiful and also cleanly precise at the same time, conveying philosophical insights in direct, Twitter-friendly snapshots.
Beautiful World, Where Are You focuses on a group of four friends: Alice, a famous writer, her best friend Eileen, who is working in an underpaid publishing job and is lost about her place in life, their mutual friend Simon, and Felix, who Alice begins to date. The four of them come from entirely different places in life, whether that be professionally, geographically, or emotionally. Alice and Eileen communicate through long emails that are interspersed throughout the novel, discussing issues that they feel the rest of society is ignoring: the death of beauty, the commodification of art and the inevitable fact that human civilisation is on the brink of disaster: ‘Aren't we unfortunate babies to be born when the world ended?’
Rooney is often criticised for her characters focusing on entirely middle-class problems like affairs and tragic relationships, but I can’t see the real issue with this. She doesn’t pretend to present her books as anything other than what they are: self-entitled characters worrying about the intricacies of their friendships and love lives, which is exactly what makes them so relatable for so many young people. When we are young, we are often selfish. These abstract issues that the characters worry about are things that occupy the heads of many millennials, to read these interactions on the page is both familiar and unnerving. “Maybe we're just born to love and worry about the people we know, and to go on loving and worrying even when there are more important things we should be doing.”
Rooney has never written particularly plot-driven books, those looking for action and drama should go elsewhere. She is better at the quiet moments that happen between people, the late-night texts, the glances, the withheld questions. After we’ve all been through two years with minimal human interaction, reading a book where simple human interaction is the entire focus and drive of the novel becomes even more satisfying.
We loved reading this novel this month and are so excited to discuss it with you- please tell us what you thought via social media or by commenting on this post!