Contemporary Fiction

Beautiful World, Where Are You – Sally Rooney

9 September 2021
Beautiful World, Where Are You Book Cover Beautiful World, Where Are You
Sally Rooney
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
7 September 2021

Beautiful World, Where Are You is a new novel by Sally Rooney, the bestselling author of Normal People and Conversations with Friends. 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 get together, they break apart. They have sex, they worry about sex, they worry about their friendships and the world they live in. Are they standing in the last lighted room before the darkness, bearing witness to something? Will they find a way to believe in a beautiful world?


There is an immersive observational skill Rooney has with her characters and their relationships. Coupled with her beautiful and unique writing style, Beautiful World, Where Are You is another captivating novel for fans of Sally Rooney.

I often feel frustrated following her characters and their relationships, wondering why they don’t just say what they mean instead of making relationships more complicated. Why does the suppression of feelings, misguided or unintentional expression of feelings force relationships down a path that seems more and more difficult to address? Then I look at relationships in real life, and I think, boy oh boy, Sally Rooney has this to a tee. We don’t make perfect choices even with good intentions, and the old saying “no good turn goes unpunished” leaves us questioning where this beautiful world is?

Alice is a successful author in our contemporary world, and we can imagine that this may be a surrogate for Sally Rooney herself. Alice and her best friend Eileen communicate openly and in-depth via email these days. This mechanism gives Rooney another device to deliver contemporary conversations to be observed from a distance. Alice is dating Felix, and their relationship is flawed, but they are still searching for how to connect better with each other, where desire and outcome are often far apart. Eileen’s other childhood friend is Simon, and they have unaddressed feelings about each other, and that friend or lover hurdle is often too high to jump. Their difficulty in expressing their feelings leads to a complicated and misunderstood relationship.

Rooney has crafted another wonderful book that illustrates her development as an author and the development of her more mature characters as they look at issues affecting our society and the modern world – climate change and that pandemic make an appearance. Regardless of the complex and often damaging events and choices we make, is this not a beautiful world we live in?

I received an extract from NetGalley for this book, and it wasn’t enough to warrant a serious review, in fact, any review – so there. Feeling totally manipulated, I purchased the book on publication day and read it in one sitting – very unusual for me. As with Normal People, I can see the divided opinion coming with this book, but I would recommend reading it if you are a Sally Rooney fan or neutral like me, but don’t if you’re not.

Peter Donnelly

Founder of The Reading Desk, supporting readers, authors, publishers and book industry. Top Reviewer on Amazon, Goodreads, and NetGalley

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