Book Review: “Beautiful World, Where Are You”

Sally Rooney’s newest novel, “Beautiful World, Where Are You” follows four adults– Alice, Eileen, Simon and Felix– as they each navigate the instability of life while finding meaning within an ever-changing world. 

Former university roommates, Alice and Eileen are now in their late twenties living their separate lives, but remaining connected through email. 

Alice, a well-known Irish novelist, moves to a small town on the outskirts of Dublin after a breakdown-induced hospitalization. In her new town, she meets Felix, an overworked and unhappy warehouse worker, and together they venture to Rome for Alice’s book tour. Eileen is an underpaid editorial assistant in Dublin who is forever intertwined with her childhood friend, Simon, through their on-again-off-again relationship.

The story’s perspective switches frequently between Alice and Eileen’s email exchanges to the third-person perspective of all four protagonists. While the novel focuses primarily on the two romantic relationships of each of the women, the friendship between the two is also intertwined throughout the novel. The emails reveal both female protagonists’ frustration with their peers and beyond, specifically highlighting their commentary on the failing economy and society within the modern world. 

The novel follows the two couples as they try to negotiate the in and outs of their relationships, which are filled with miscommunication and trivial conflict. As is characteristic of Rooney’s characters, such as Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan of “Normal People,” each couple is inclined to feel even though it feels these misunderstandings are so avoidable. As Alice and Felix become closer, they constantly misread each other. In one scene, Felix mentions that Alice would do anything for him because she is in love with him, causing Alice to become cold and distant. Rather than trying to understand this reaction, Felix ignores it and moves on, setting the scene for more problems in the future. 

Despite the flawed pattern of these relationships, Rooney is able to create loveable characters that the reader wants to succeed in the end. Rooney’s habitual attention to the nuances of each character, highlighting their flaws with as much emphasis as their strengths, is as evident as ever in “Beautiful World, Where Are You.” 

Like Marianne, the heroine of Rooney’s popular second novel, “Normal People,” Alice is simultaneously self-confident and cripplingly insecure. Both characters effectively intertwine the realities of being human. 

This novel doesn’t follow a strong plotline but is instead character-driven, similar to Rooney’s previous novels. As the novel progresses, each character grows from their mistakes, then proceeds to make even more mistakes. One of the most engaging parts of the book is the fact that they seem to suffer unnecessarily, but still find a way to keep going, which allows the reader to find themselves among these characters, and learn alongside them. 

With her compelling protagonists, Rooney is able to highlight that humans are, in fact, flawed beings, simply trying to understand each other. Rooney is able to express that, whether, through romantic or platonic relationships, we are all trying to connect with each other on a deeper level, whether or not we’re always successful.