A review of the novel “Beautiful World, Where Are You” by Sally Rooney

I really enjoyed Rooney’s first two novels “Conversations With Friends” and “Normal People”, both of which have now been turned into a 12-episode television series, so I was keen to read this third work and it does not disappoint.

As with her earlier works, the focus is on friendships and relationships between young people in contemporary Ireland. This time, we have successful writer Alice and warehouse worker Felix who meet via Tinder on the west coast, while editorial assistant Eileen and political activist Simon – who have known each other since childhood – hook up in Dublin, before all the characters stay together for a time in Alice’s rented house.

What is different in this novel is the structure with chapters alternating between straight narrative and long and thoughtful emails between best friends Alice and Eileen. These emails do not just comment on their enduring friendship and latest relationship but on the wider world with erudite thoughts on subjects as wide-ranging as the Late Bronze Age collapse and the modern Western novel.

Through Alice’s ruminations especially, Rooney explores the justification for novels like her own which deal with quotidian lives rather than grand issues such as world poverty or the climate crisis. So she writes: “The problem with the contemporary Euro-American novel is that it relies for its structural integrity on suppressing the lived realities of most human beings on earth” and “we can care once again, as we do in real life, whether people break up or stay together – if, and only if, we have successfully forgotten about all the things more important than that, i.e. everything”.

Rooney identifies herself as a Marxist but even political idealists like her – and me – can and should care about our partners and friends. If reading Rooney is a guilty pleasure, then I admit to it.


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