This week we're taking a closer look at Powell's Pick of the Month Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney.
I read Beautiful World, Where Are You
in two sittings on my 29th birthday, chasing the shade around my backyard and contemplating the inevitability of climate crisis and societal collapse amidst record-breaking high temperatures here in the Pacific Northwest.
A lot. I know.
Alice and Eileen, the novel’s 29-year-old protagonists, are grappling with similar anxieties.
Eileen, an editorial assistant stuck repeating old patterns, rebounds from a breakup by reigniting an almost-relationship with her childhood friend Simon. Alice, a novelist recovering from both sudden fame and a mental health crisis, finds herself spending time with a warehouse worker named Felix. The four are more settled into adulthood than any Rooney protagonist so far and yet, on either side of 30, they are unmoored by the encroaching bigness of the world and its ills. Third-person chapters are intercut with emails between Alice and Eileen — written the way you and your friends hope you sound in your smartest, wittiest, and most introspective moments — which give Rooney a venue to explore everything from mental health to politics and climate change to sex.
For me, Rooney’s writing is an uncanny mirror, always leaving me feeling both at odds with myself and acutely understood.
To say this novel is highly anticipated is one hell of an understatement. Hype, acclaim, detraction, television adaptations, and discourse discourse discourse
follow closely in Rooney’s wake. Some Rooney fans will be disappointed. Some Rooney critics may feel validated. Even I found myself thinking halfway through, Is this
? (I settled on, It’s just the right amount of pretentious
, by the way.) But this isn’t a book for everyone. No book is.
For me, Rooney’s writing is an uncanny mirror, always leaving me feeling both at odds with myself and acutely understood. In Beautiful World, Where Are You
she cuts straight to the heart of the contradictions and cynicism inherent when we question what we owe ourselves, what we owe each other, and what we owe the world more broadly. It is immensely readable, sexy, wryly funny, a testament to female friendship, and did make me cry. Exactly what I needed to read this summer.
Here is writing that asks: How do you balance caring for yourself and your loved ones while maintaining empathy for a planet in crisis? At what point is prioritizing your own happiness selfish and at what point is it necessary? Is it possible to overcome the uneasy notion that the beautiful aspects of the world were long gone before you arrived? And yet, somehow, this novel soothes the instinct for nihilism with a wild kind of hope. A hope, as Eileen offers, “that new things will keep happening, that nothing is over yet.”
Check out the rest of our Picks of the Month