Sally Rooney – Beautiful World, Where Are You – book review

I read Conversations With Friends and Normal People within days of each other, devouring the former’s BBC series in the same week. Sally Rooney was firmly on my list of favourite female authors along with the likes of Taylor Jenkins Reid and Hannah Orenstein.

With TJR, I read Daisy Jones and the Six, then The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and was besotted with her writing – I felt the same way about her work as I did Rooney’s. But then I read, well, listened to Maybe In Another Life and everything fell apart. 

And that’s how I feel about Rooney’s Beautiful World, Where Are You – and looking at online reviews, it appears that most of her readers fall into two categories. Those who loved her first two books and couldn’t find that same feeling for novel number three, and those who didn’t enjoy Normal People or Conversations with Friends, but thought Beautiful World was a masterpiece.

Released on September 7, 2021, Beautiful World, Where Are You was a New York Times bestseller, and follows the lives of four Irish friends who find themselves in something of a love quadrangle. 

The opening of the millennial relationship novel feels like you’ve walked into the cinema half way through a film, or stepped into a group conversation 30 minutes late – but no-one is willing to catch you up on the details. Only, Sally’s writing is all about the details, sometimes painfully so. It’s what made me love her first two releases, but equally what I disliked about Beautiful World.

The blurb reads: “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 break-up 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 worry about sex and friendship and the times they live in. Will they find a way to believe in a beautiful world?”

At the heart of it, Beautiful World features themes of friendship, love, wealth and class, but the plot itself lacked excitement for me. Every miniscule detail is described in 20 words more than necessary, and it feels incredibly awkward, clunky and ultimately, a little disappointing.

It’s much less a story, and more a character examination as these four unlikely friends start to discover their identities and what they really stand for in their 20s. None of them are particularly likeable as people, but in a grotesque human way, it’s almost impossible not to want to read about them – to sip your coffee and listen in to their conversation and witness their peculiar interactions through the glass of your favourite cafe.

That said, there is something about the honesty and truthfulness in Sally Rooney’s writing which means that I would still buy and read a redemption book. I’m gutted to have not enjoyed this title as much as I’d have liked, but I don’t completely regret reading it – even if it did take what felt like forever to do so.

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