Typically, contemporary novelists speak reverently of their form, as if the result were some kind of sacred object, so Alice’s position has a refreshing lack of mummery. But Rooney undermines her character’s point by making her own novels so uncannily enthralling. In summary, her books sound like trifles of no particular interest, but in execution they’re as habit-forming as crack ... A confession: I find the ideological garment-rending and hair-tearing of Rooney’s protagonists endearingly comical ... The contrast between the way these people talk about the world, the performative doom ’n’ glooming so prevalent in social media and casual conversation, and their actual, lived concerns seems the point of Rooney’s fiction. It’s ironic in the original sense of the word ... the ordinary loneliness of Rooney’s characters can be piercing ... Their stumbling progress through the minefield of intimacy, related in Rooney’s plain prose and via several exquisitely-rendered sex scenes, has the raw, wincing tenderness of skin under a scab scratched off too soon. That literary characters serve as moral exemplars seems a childish thing to expect, and a foolish one. A novel about characters of impeccably non-gestural Marxist politics sounds both hard to imagine and fairly dull. What I, in my shameless bourgeois complacency, prefer is that the characters in a novel be, as Rooney’s are, eminently human.
... despite spirited inquiries into these subjects, Rooney’s fiction to this point remains philosophically anchored in the realms of friendship and romance ... Alice is a more obvious avatar for Rooney than Eileen, but it can feel as if the author, a former debate champion, is having Socratic conversations with herself through the correspondence between the two ... Though people might crave to parse or market the voice of a generation, Rooney is up to very old-fashioned things. Alice and Eileen’s emails are digital, but as the equivalent of 15-page handwritten letters they feel downright anachronistic ... When Rooney does write about social media and texting, their presence is perfectly organic, and she’s smart about their texture and effects ... In a novelist’s hands, as in real life, technology is what one makes of it. It’s difficult to sell 'actual lol' as a brutally emotional and telling line, but Rooney does ... Rooney’s people are reflective of their time and milieu — like most convincing characters — and it’s true that some of their qualities will be perplexing to those north of 40 ... Rooney is by all accounts plenty earnest herself, but she has the necessary gift of complicating that — even poking fun at it — in her work ... Rooney writes directly, convincingly, hotly about sex. These scenes arrive with such well-timed frequency that 'erotica' doesn’t seem an unfair subcategory for the books ... Impassioned, intellectual 20-somethings discussing their vexed feelings for one another is a road made mostly of potholes. Rooney avoids almost all of them. The fact that her characters speak and feel the way they do while rarely making the reader feel embarrassed for them is an achievement. It’s an uncomfortable line to toe, but Rooney succeeds by standing so close to it ... The novel’s thoughts on fame are among its least inspired ... Rooney might refine her inquiries into her own popularity over time, or she might just go on profitably writing about the questions that have paved the way to that popularity: 'Have I hurt you, do you love me, will you always.'
... the arid, intense melancholy of a Hopper painting ... particularly passages written in Eileen’s voice, Rooney sheds the stiff pelt of scene-building and attains a clarity reminiscent of Rachel Cusk’s in her Outline trilogy ... is carefully formless and its characters are fluent in our lingua franca of systemic collapse, that neoliberal patter of learned helplessness in the face of larger capital and labor systems ... kind of a vibey omniscience that proceeds by way of spare descriptions. Rooney writes scenes as though she had to type them out on a TI-89. Nouns and verbs. This can be lovely, as when she describes empty rooms or the touch of someone’s hand on a wrist. Her writing about sex is taut and direct. It’s a narrative style I associate with the films of Andrew Haigh and Joanna Hogg, two great visual poets of social anxiety and reticence ... Rooney’s dialogue is frequently perfect, so perfect that it occasionally turns into a flaw. That is, Rooney’s characters speak as though they’re in a ’90s rom-com or else the adaptation of an Evelyn Waugh novel ... at times it feels like a hammy line reading. Much like their compatriots—narrators from novels by Sheila Heti, Ben Lerner and Andrew Martin—Rooney’s characters chatter about the pointlessness of feeling that the world is too far gone to do anything about even as they seem to agree that our problems tower high above our heads ... In my less charitable moments, it felt as though we’ve reached a point in our culture where the pinnacle of moral rigor in the novel form is an overwhelmed white woman in a major urban center sighing and having a thought about the warming planet or the existence of refugees ... I found the novel’s defensiveness about the moral dubiousness of its aesthetic project kind of charming, but also frustrating. Yet, for all that, Beautiful World, Where Are You is Rooney’s best novel yet. Funny and smart, full of sex and love and people doing their best to connect.
Near the beginning of Sally Rooney’s beautiful and serious new novel there is a subdued but irresistible moment of comedy ... . It is the tragedy (and occasionally the absurdity) of Rooney’s characters to understand and care so deeply for the things that matter—art, love, the condition of the human soul under consumer capitalism—that they are doomed to respond to the everyday world with a kind of mournful, disaffected irony ... for 337 pages (more space than any previous Rooney protagonists have been granted) these characters must work out how to love each other and how to live. Much of that work is done in the series of essayistic emails between Eileen and Alice. In these you sense Rooney’s powerful and subtle intelligence moving beneath the surface ... If this sounds super-refined and disembodied, the novel also contains some of the most explicit sex scenes Rooney has written ... Some readers will object that the emails and the sex scenes are typical of a novelist who prefers her characters when they are thinking or feeling intensely to when they are interacting with the world in its trashy, trivial detail ... This is precisely the argument twisting beneath the novel’s surface. How much of ordinary life can a novel let in without dissolving into meaninglessness? ... these anxieties sound trite and boring ... Rooney, though, approaches each of her problems with a passionate honesty that means her conclusions about life and art feel hard-won and precious.Beautiful World, Where Are You operates on the reader with a kind of rebuking seriousness: are you living properly? Do you care deeply enough about the most important things? The book moved me to tears more than once. For all its structural oddness,Beautiful World, Where Are You is Rooney’s best novel.
One strand of it could be plucked from Jane Austen in the way the characters struggle to interpret each other’s desires and in its shape as a good old-fashioned marriage plot. Henry James is a ghostly presence. Rooney, hailed as the voice of the young, is very deliberately placing herself in venerable company ... For another writer, all of this might amount to an exercise in literary nostalgia or insupportable hubris. But what makes it so intriguing here is that Rooney’s characters are emphatically not Isabel Archer or Elizabeth Bennett ... Rooney takes the very considerable risk of allowing Alice’s experiences to mirror, in career terms, her own ... The obvious risk here is that of a 'poor me' solipsism. But Rooney counters it with a passionate and searching inquiry into the connection between the problem of writing and the problem of living ... At times the essay weighs too heavily on the fiction ... But Rooney’s prose—cool, transparent, almost scientific in its rigour—makes the story work, sentence by sentence. For all Alice and Eileen’s despair at the inadequacy of public language, Rooney is always making the opposite case with her clarity of expression. Even when her characters are overwrought, her writing never is ... They find their way, in other words, into a classic 19th-century novel. Fortunately for them, and for us, it is a very good one, written with immense skill and illuminated by an endlessly incisive intelligence.
Submissive impulses, homemade Christianity, and an ethos of mutual care return in her new novel, Beautiful World, Where Are You ... Chasing her ideas about love, Rooney hasn’t sufficiently incarnated them. Unlike the wayward human beings of her earlier novels, the foursome in Beautiful World seems carefully planned and a little static, like figures in an allegory ... I suspect that many readers will miss the ruthless speed and economy that Rooney displayed in her first two books, but she remains a great talent. Among the considerable pleasures here are her bold variations in perspective ... A powerful intellect beats beneath her underdressed prose ... Rooney hasn’t quite found the right vessel for her vision, any more than her characters have found the ideal sociopolitical structure for channeling human connectedness. Rooney could have taken the safer route of repeating herself, but she seems to have an Enlightenment idea of the artist’s calling: She experiments.
Rooney has a gift for creating gut-wrenching stories out of the mundane. Even more impressive, she manages to make absolutely everything she writes about sound both sexy and cute ... At one point in the novel I was convinced she was just flexing the fact that she can make even descriptions about a curtain seem tantalizing ... Yet...I would rather be forced to take a course on ethics taught by Jake Paul than sit through a single dinner with a character from this novel ... Rooney’s latest characters weren’t even unlikable for the reasons I believe she intended. It wasn’t that they were too human, complex, fragile, or fucked up for their own good. I disliked them for the small things—the things you find a friend doing that annoy you to such a degree you have no choice but to talk shit about them to your mom ... Because I hated these people so much, I didn’t really care if any of them achieved love or happiness. In many ways it was like Normal People, except you don’t root for anyone to get together—and don’t worry, they’re aware of the horrors of the world. I did find myself rooting for Simon and Felix to dump Alice and Eileen and have sex with each other ... Fortunately, Sally Rooney can make even people who really annoy me still be sexy and cute.
... exceptionally deft ... Rooney looks hard for beauty and—reassuringly—manages to find it. That is part of her considerable appeal. But so is the straightforward sincerity with which she writes about class issues, mental health, and see-saw relationships. Her unembellished prose is rich in conversations that are at once plaintive and wry, soul-baring and deflective. In addition, there are Rooney's now-famous sex scenes, among the most lushly moving you'll find in contemporary literary fiction ... more structurally complex and innovative than Conversations with Friends and Normal People—not always effectively—with shifts between cool, detached perspectives and more intimate views of her four characters' often heated, emotionally charged interactions ... Whether or not Rooney actually shares her characters' reservations about writing will-they-or-won't-they romantic tragicomedies in a world in which millions are suffering is moot. What elevates her work is not just penetrating discussions like these but her uncanny ability to entrance us by capturing the emotional risks, power plays, miscommunications, ups and downs, hard work, and mixed feelings that accompany so much of our undertakings, including evolving relationships ... Beautiful world, where are you? There's plenty of evidence of it in great literature like this, which, among other things, celebrates the considerable consolations of love and friendship.
There is lots and lots of sex in this book, tenderly written, primal, graphic, respectful ... If it does begin to feel like every scene is a facilitation for more coitus, it falls in keeping with the novel’s foundational belief in love and human connection — providing access to a beautiful world beneath our vulgar reality — as the primary reason to exist ... Our present-day, screen-navigated existences are accurately, maybe excessively, tracked in line with the email take on epistolary form; there are also text conversations, over-detailed internet searches and unnecessary descriptions of tech activity. Perhaps this is the point — our reliance on its power to both guide and connect us — but the inordinate tracking gives the effect at times of a rather robotic, plodding spatial delineation ... All forgivable, in the limpid realm of this luxurious prose. I think overall this is Rooney’s strongest writing thus far, bathed in a soft white light — she does some wonderful things with light, and air — bearing (sometimes heavy) glimmers of James Salter and Proust in its dense, photographic mapping of everyday conscious experience, then spanning outwards to our small consequence in the vastness of the universe ... There is a touching honesty and truthfulness in these pages, along with a quiet brilliance, and that seems something for art to offer amid the anguished state of the world: to show how we live, to ask how we can live
Rooney's third book...may be her most overtly personal work yet ... The novel feels like a natural progression for Rooney and the characters she creates ... Beautiful World resonated in a way that Rooney's earlier works did not ... Beautiful World is timely, of course. But unlike many pandemic-era works, the novel doesn't exploit the events of our 'new normal' or the collective trauma that has resulted from it. Like every Rooney novel, Beautiful World is at its core a character study.
... wise, romantic, and ultimately consoling ... Once again, Rooney has drawn a circumscribed world—four people, tightly wound in the small universe of one another’s lives—and once again, this is a love story, although the book’s most compelling romance is the platonic one between its two main female protagonists ... it is the epic minutiae of human relations, not the grand structures of economic inequality, that send the blood pumping through the writing. Nonetheless, we know the two can’t be extricated; the latter impinges on the former ... In [some] moments, Rooney deprives herself of access to her character’s interiority—the very medium of most fiction concerned with personal relations. Here’s an alternate way of seeing, one derived from a camera lens rather than the traditionally omniscient novelist’s gaze. The effect—implying the novelist herself might not fully know her characters, or at least withhold some of her knowledge—is one of delightful modesty ... Maybe Rooney knows that it’s the small dimensions of her fiction—the close, funneled, loving attention she pays her characters—that allow her books to trap within their confines anxieties of huge historical breadth.
It's a testament to Rooney's curious, cerebral gifts as a writer that she not only draws her readers into tolerating long stretches of...ruminations but makes them so entertaining. We feel we're in good company with our own end-time anxieties ... Rooney vividly traces the shifting amoeba-like shapes of these relationships in her distinctive, expository prose style that reads like a late capitalist homage to Hemingway ... It's striking that in this, Rooney's toughest and most sweeping novel to date, that what's tentatively affirmed at the end are...sex and friendship, personal bonds between human beings ... Rooney's novel, like all great fiction, is open-ended. It's given to an ambivalence that runs from the author through her narrative to us readers ... Rooney isn't sure. Instead, she entices us into her own dark uncertainty, where, remarkably, we enjoy spending time.
Rooney writes about love and sex with depth and sensitivity, but never takes either topic too seriously. That is not to say that this is not a serious novel—the plot may be driven by young, attractive people falling in love and having sex, but it is at its heart about how to find meaning in an increasingly ugly world. Every sentence compels you to read more, but Rooney is at her best with Alice and Eileen’s correspondence ... Rooney excels at depicting the densely layered and varied ways that this generation communicates ... Rooney, unlike her fictional novelist, is willing to explore, rather than suppress, truths of the world. And while her text is tightly packed with meaning and imagery, it glitters less than it illuminates. She writes without pretense and with undeniable beauty.
... there seems to be some sexual tension between Alice and Eileen, but it’s perhaps just there to add some much-needed depth. And that’s a part of the problem with this book: it’s very subtle, at times too much so ... (the working class, it seems, is something to do with having a job and nothing to do with the non-white working poor). It becomes an exercise in readerly patience to continue to care about Eileen ... Perhaps this is the point, it can be very confusing to be on the cusp of turning 30, even when you’re privileged. The failure of both female characters to push back against negative behavior...is disappointing. If the reader is expecting a novel about the transition and growth of two young women into more positive, vibrant people, this is not that novel. Instead, it’s a gracefully written study of relationships between four deeply flawed people who try to find love in whatever form works for them.
Beautiful World, Where Are You could be called Rooney’s version of a novel of ideas, and I confess that my tolerance for the characters’ roving disquisitions turned out to be pretty high. I found myself nodding sagely as the women riffed ... But the novel’s most interesting turns take place outside of the characters’ in-boxes ... All of the characters suffer from feeling ineffectual where they are, and the reader wonders whether this problem constitutes a specific identity, a set of circumstances, or a fixed condition of being ... Occasional phrases in the novel, such as the 'practised ease' with which fingers navigate a touch screen, venture toward triteness. Yet the accretion of little gestures—hands thrust in and out of pockets, gazes redirected—is one of Rooney’s sharpest distinctions as a stylist ... I find that her precise, spare style can also have the effect of dilating scenes, making the reader pay close attention to every word. The sex in Rooney novels is hot because it is written in a syntax of pronouns, verbs, and body parts which won’t be distracted by adverbial overthinking. However much self-awareness she writes into her characters, Rooney also shows us that there is plenty to glean about how people get on with one another without taking up residence inside their heads. In the best moments of Beautiful World, Where Are You, Rooney does what I think of as 'meanwhiling,' letting the routine of one character sidle up next to that of another, placing simultaneous, disparate doings in a kind of ambivalent solidarity ... No longer quite so normal, Rooney reaches for the banal and grasps tiny worlds.
Rooney has written an extraordinarily lucid, gorgeous and nuanced work about coming of age in what is indeed a broken world. Without directly addressing the pandemic, the book powerfully reflects a moment defined by existential interiority and uncertainty ... Rooney’s characters are rather ordinary. And yet, this is one of the most assured, poetic and beautifully calibrated books I’ve read in years ... The way Rooney designs [the novel's email] conversations demonstrates her understanding of how so many of us think and speak now, in scattered thoughts, toggling between the registers of global catastrophe and personal shortcomings, gossip and political outrage ... This is a book designed to be widely read and discussed ... Rooney’s commitment to the beauty of the novel feels old-fashioned and sincere in the best way.
... decidedly less readable novel than we are used to from Rooney. If her first novel, Conversations With Friends, and Normal People could be gobbled up in a single sitting, Beautiful World, Where Are You actively resists the politics of easy consumption, perhaps seeking some kind of moral victory in what some might consider artistic defeat ... a certain concreteness to the discussions of labor that unfold between characters ... This point about culture is an important one, as the depiction of working-class culture is one way in which this novel disappoints considerably, though perhaps not surprisingly. Across Rooney’s body of work, working-class characters rise up through society by showcasing their strong interpretive powers, as they engage astutely with classic works of fiction or the fine arts ... This moment with Felix and dog is, however, a rare instance of 'love and care' in the novel that felt convincing to me. The other couples come across like a thought experiment in class relations that got rushed into production because Eileen and Alice were anxious about turning 30. As the heroines capitulate to genre expectations, so, too, does the novel, leaving us with a conventional bourgeois story that wants us to know it considered the alternatives, but decided to go with something a little more, well—marketable.
... her latest only serves to confirm her estimable talent and prove them wrong ... there is undeniable physical and emotional chemistry in these pairings, and Rooney effectively maintains our uncertainty about whether they will flower or wilt. In addition to conventional narrative, Rooney relies on a technique that seems simultaneously timeless and utterly contemporary. While not truly an epistolary novel, lengthy and erudite email exchanges between Alice and Eileen are central to revealing their concerns and their character ... She’s such a lucid writer, however, that there’s no risk of getting lost in what, in the hands of a lesser novelist, might turn into an impenetrable verbal thicket ... it’s clear that Sally Rooney’s stature is well-earned.
The structure and plot are pure Rooney: Sentences so minimalist that they feel like literary versions of Donald Judd boxes; exquisite, tense sex scenes better than any moan-y porn; pint glasses clinking over conversation about who really constitutes the working class ... Her characters’ manic political declarations add an extra glaze of intellectual cred, and Rooney, nothing if not self-aware, knows it. Beautiful World is constantly trying to poke holes in itself to see if it will deflate. Sometimes it feels like a beta test in which the sales numbers and critical reception will decide which Rooney (the younger or the elder) makes an appearance in novel No. 4 ... For all the talk of Rooney as a groundbreaking voice of her generation, the new novel is an old-fashioned comedy of manners ... She writes every sentence as if it were a screenplay for an uncluttered film ... Clothes are simple and neat, floors are swept and tidy, no detritus is permitted in her syntax. This is the language of simple pleasures, easy to digest, satisfying. Rooney’s novels make great television shows because that’s what they already are ... All of which is to say that “Beautiful World” is a paradox. Sally Rooney seems to be done with the cult of Sally Rooney but beholden to her style, her proclivities. She won’t be able to shake them so easily; her premises aren’t resistible enough. Beautiful World tries new structural gambits, but these (especially a lame, inadvisable coda) feel painstakingly collaged — unsuccessful breaks for freedom. Rooney’s first two novels read like one long exhalation, but this one sometimes requires an inhaler.
Rooney often juxtaposes the 'tableaux' of her quartet, seen from afar, with hints at the cosmic or ancient world. The effect is akin to religious paintings in which the point isn’t the solidity or humanity of the figures, but the immaterial world beyond the picture plane ... however intentional, this cerebral quartet of characters didn’t move me to the extent Conversations With Friends’ Frances and Bobbi, or Normal People’s Marianne and Connell did. Their back stories feel awkwardly rather than artfully compressed. Their bodies are idealised to the point of saintly incorporeality ... Publishing may be a poisoned chalice, but bearing witness to each other redeems both Rooney’s characters and their fallen world ... Chronologically, this is Rooney’s third novel, and yet I can’t help but think of it as her sophomore offering, however accomplished ... This novel reads as an attempt to reconcile herself to this knowledge – deploying characteristic intelligence but with a guardedness that makes it harder to love. It’s a strange, imperfect book, the product of strange, far from perfect times.
Sally Rooney writes as if a philosophy major broke her heart freshman year and she never fully recovered ... Rooney’s special skill is the ability to place readers at eye level with her characters and plot, to sneak them into the world of her story as a participant in the room ... She pulls the reader in with her famously unadorned sentences and creates an intimacy akin to peering over the characters’ shoulders. The deliberate tenderness in her previous novels, the soft exchanges of her characters, and the absolute banality of her plots remain with Beautiful World ... The e-mails and texts in Rooney’s previous works pushed the novels forward. They revealed the innermost workings of how the characters felt about each other, how their love was growing, how their insecurities got in the way of their triumphs. In Beautiful World, Alice and Eileen’s e-mails leave no significant impressions ... Rooney’s grippingly flawed characters held me hostage with reflections of myself.
The chapters alternate from one couple to the other, but intermingled are letters between Alice and Eileen, who are best friends. These letters are where the novel sings and Rooney shows a lack of restraint that is new to her work. The scenes are narrated in the clipped and aloof style of her previous novels ... delightfully scandalous ... while a reader should respect the demarcation between author and character, it is hard to imagine why Rooney would write these things were it not to vent about the pitfalls of her own success ... Whether or not her style is to one’s taste, Rooney is playing to her strengths. And while now and then the ideas exchanged between Alice and Eileen can read like a university essay, not only is Rooney good at writing these, you can sense she’s enjoying herself. She is also skilled at increasing tension between characters in unexpected ways ... If you weren’t a fan of the previous novels, this book probably won’t convert you ... In one of her letters, Alice reflects on the joy of writing novels: 'I need to feel that my life has some kind of centre, somewhere for my thoughts to return and rest.' This could also describe the particular comfort that her readers get from a Rooney novel.
The actual issue Beautiful World, Where Are You struggles with is not whether to exist but how. How, that is, to reconstruct the traditional marriage plot for a generation that no longer believes in marriage, or, really, in any of the foundational verities—monogamy, parenthood, property—that once gave people (and books) their direction ... Ms. Rooney’s writing strengths continue from her previous novels. The incongruous pairing of Alice and Felix is not as sexy as the one in Conversations With Friends (which matched an ordinary girl with a hunky actor) but it still generates friction. And the sex scenes—which in the author’s signature style are presented largely through dialogue—impressively capture a wide and subtly graduated range of sensations ... Her technical weaknesses, though, haven’t changed either. The writing is stuffed with empty descriptions of people lighting cigarettes, opening wine bottles, scrolling smartphones and so on, creating a tonal flatness that is aggravated by the complete absence of irony. This is a novel that asks readers to take the characters exactly as seriously as they take themselves—an impossibility, when they are prone to adolescent outbursts ... we are finally defeated by the humorless, almost wounded quality of the narration from an author who has not established any psychological distance from her characters.
... something of a mixed bag. Even if opposites do attract, it is hard to fully believe in Alice and Felix's blossoming love ... Rooney also taxes us with the rambling e-mails Alice and Eileen send one another—correspondence that covers a range of topics from politics to plastic, class conflict to early writing systems ... Her narrative becomes engaging when her characters swap self-absorption for interaction. We may have to surrender disbelief in places, but otherwise we marvel as Rooney continues to write convincingly and captivatingly about human relationships in all their relatable complexity.
Beautiful is the first of her works to be at least in part about that — 'that' being money and fame and what it feels like to live inside the blast radius of your own sudden, life-obliterating success. And if those disclosures offer sometimes startling insight into its author's deeply rattled state of mind, they do not, alas, always serve her story ... The romantic roundelays and betrayals that ricochet between the foursome form the backbone of the book's scattered plot, such as it is ... Alice and the rest of Beautiful's restless youth are exactly the kind of fervent, clever truth seekers that Rooney has made her signature; at its best, the clarity of their presence slices across the page like a hot knife through butter. But the book's millennial cri de coeur can also tip into navel-gazing indulgence.
The story vibrates to...romantic havering. But compared with the work of Jane Austen—which Ms Rooney admires, and in which courtship drives the plot and the climax is marriage—her tales of messy modern love follow improvised patterns. Sex, which she describes unsqueamishly and arrestingly, is a beginning not a destination, and tends to lead to an enervating stasis (male domination and female masochism crop up frequently). Relationships meander in a state of quantum irresolution, the parties likely to have different perceptions of whether they are off or on ... Intellectually as well as stylistically, the tone is flat ... The problem is not that the ideas are right or wrong, but that they are predictable. The exchanges lack dialectical fizz as Alice and Eileen generally agree with one another. That may be because both are projections of paths Ms Rooney herself has followed, or might have ... The novel’s most interesting feature is its handling of the church ... Ms Rooney’s political preoccupations have interfered with her craft. But a religious instinct seems also to loom behind her restrained prose, her aversion to vividness, her tendency to blur feelings and perceptions with qualifiers ... The mix of asceticism and mysticism suggests an author who thinks the real action is happening in another realm. Whether her devoted readers are happy to live with the consequences may be a matter of faith.
The novel follows these plot lines in much the same way as one boils noodles: semi-attentively, disinterestedly, and with a limp, flavorless result. The narrative gimmick on which Rooney hangs much of the book is as poorly-conceived as it is poorly-executed: for much of its length, this is an epistolary novel. Alice and Eileen send each other completely unbelievable emails, emails of enormous length and complexity, emails, in other words, that know they’re in a novel ... Roony's...conspicuously talentless ... repulsively self-pitying: Alice the millionaire-phenom author feels victimized ... If we extrapolate anything of the author into the character, it at least adds a seasoning of bathos to this soup of boredom. But the boredom still wins out. The plot in Beautiful World, Where Are You is not sloppy and meandering as some kind of meta-commentary on the shapelessness of modern twenty-something existence—it’s sloppy and meandering because Sally Rooney is incapable of writing anything more coherent.
... email exchanges between Alice and Eileen...[are] a plausible and interesting stylistic development for someone who writes in the classic English novel tradition—a contemporary twist on epistolary. But in reality, the emails are like a spine: structurally integral but knobbly and rigid. Their content slips between politics and dense reams of fact, so that they end up reading more like Wikipedia entries than fiction ... It isn’t that they are uninteresting—very few things that Rooney thinks or writes are. The problem is that they bear only tenuous relation to the business of the novel. They do nothing to advance the plot and weirdly little to flesh out the characters from whose keyboards they purport to spring. It is also primarily in the emails that the other real irritation of the novel emerges ... It’s all the more frustrating because jammed between the emails is some of Rooney’s most beautiful writing ... Rooney has also mastered the art of writing about sex. There’s a lot of it, including an entire chapter on the phone, which unfolds like a miniature play, and it is brilliantly done: gripping, steamy, unbearably sad ... it is a puzzle of a novel: brilliant and flawed ... If only someone with courage and a red pen had taken this book to task, it might have been her masterpiece.
Rooney has a rare talent for representing even the most cringe-inducing elements of contemporary experience in precise but understated prose ... Both Alice and Eileen...seem emotionally cooler than the characters of her earlier work, and do not radiate off the page with the same intensity. As a result, Beautiful World often lacks the dynamism that defined Rooney’s previous books ... The most vibrant sequences are the sex scenes, which are some of Rooney’s horniest and best. They are also shamelessly heterosexual ... It is here—in the private experiences that Rooney is so adept at capturing—that the novel is at its most vivid ... Although Rooney devotes more space than ever to big concepts such as religion, 'care ethics' and identity politics, the book’s framework is not radical or even especially political. It is another novel about sex and friendship ... [a] moving but almost aggressively conventional ending, which is far neater than the ambiguous conclusions to Rooney’s other works. Like a 19th-century novel, it resolves problems material and emotional, and verges on the twee.
It’s earnest stuff ... and anyone who binge-watched Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones might well start to hanker for rather less theory and a bit more will-they-won’t-they ... Only after Alice invites Felix to Rome for her Italian book launch...does the story spring to life; he’s at the heart of all the novel’s best moments, not least when Eileen and Simon finally make a long-delayed visit to Alice for the first time since she returned to Ireland ... Certainly, this is her most self-consciously awkward book to date. When Alice worries that fiction depends on making us forget the “brutal exploitation of a majority of the human species”, it grinds against Rooney’s gift for eliciting the emotional investment of which the novel seems so wary; it’s as if McDonald’s insisted on showing customers footage from the abattoir as they tuck in to their Big Macs. Hectoringly ambivalent about her own pleasures, Rooney seems to be saying that what she has to offer as a writer isn’t enough, but that it’s also all there is. Will the readers who love her care about any of this? Ultimately, it’s hard not to feel her greatest artistic challenge isn’t retooling the romcom for an era of political crisis, but the simpler, if no less tricky, task of just getting on with her work.
... what’s new in Beautiful World, Where Are You is a heightened self-awareness, conveyed mainly through Alice and Eileen’s correspondence. Having thoroughly metabolized the likely reception of a Sally Rooney novel, Beautiful World seems eager to sucker-punch its critics by clarifying its own viewpoints beyond all doubt. Through her characters, Rooney strides into the arena in full debate-champ regalia ... this book’s themes and politics turn out to be surprisingly trad-cath, as its characters indulge in a nostalgia that is sheepish but heartfelt ... Intentional or not, I think it’s a missed opportunity. Rather than grapple with the tension between their reactionary aesthetics and revolutionary politics, the characters cop out, drop out, and opt to cultivate their own gardens, literally ... Beautiful World doesn’t resist or challenge...but rather capitulates...offering the comforts of a more beautiful age that it knows never existed.
... fraught and lovely ... The love stories provide the plot skeleton, and Rooney sketches them out with her characteristically sharp eye for the ever-shifting power dynamics of relationships and impressively intimate sex scenes. (Rooney’s tool kit also comes, it must be said, with a tendency to occasionally have characters break up over a misunderstanding so stupid that you kind of just say, 'Okay, Sally, we’ll let it go because it’s you') ... is unlikely to be quite such a hit with readers, however successful it is on its own terms. It takes place very determinedly outside of the realm of the body. The love stories exist, but the ethical problem of art is what this novel is capital-A About ... Here, finally, is the end of alienation. Here, finally, is what it means to live life in a body, as a human being, not as a dry, mechanical observer or as a bodiless brain in cyberspace. That is what novels can offer us, even bourgeois realist novels, and especially Rooney’s earlier novels. And that, she seems to argue, is what matters most of all ... it’s unlikely to be a crowd-pleaser on the level the other two novels were. There is something tender about the way Rooney turns again and again to the novel, almost against her will, as though, Mr. Darcy-like, she has struggled in vain to deny her true feelings. Beautiful World, Where Are You is still very dialectical and Marxist and interested in political debates. Yet it is also a love letter to the novel as a form of art — and, by extension, to the ways in which human beings relate to one another ... a love letter to all of us, to all the ways we love. It’s much sweeter and smarter than all the merch would lead you to believe.
Sally Rooney's writing is populated by the most irritating, overthinking, self-absorbed characters you could hope to meet. It is this, I think, that makes them so real, so relatable, so likeable ... Is this how young people behave, analysing everything from their own viewpoint? If so, Rooney observes and paints this beautifully ... This is a novel of the inner life. Email exchanges between Alice and Eileen are meandering treatises on language, thought, modern life, celebrity culture, insanity. Things don't happen — they are discussed ... One of the most enjoyable facets of the novel for me is reading multiple viewpoints on one page, watching what Felix is thinking and doing at work just as Alice is thinking and doing stuff at home. Fascinating ... It's a touching novel because this is what people can be like. We love our friends but they drive us mad, too. I now know Alice, Eileen, Felix and Simon – I've been to the pub with them, consoled them, thrown my hands in the air at their navel-gazing behaviours ... This is incredibly powerful writing. Rooney has done it again, and will probably hate the attention she receives because of it.
You don’t think the moment when the book reveals its essence will come, but then it does, an aha! surfacing slowly enough to allow you to enjoy its arrival but then quickly revealing itself to be so robust and fully formed that you wonder how you didn’t see it coming all along ... Beautiful World’s characters are less immediately accessible than past Rooney characters, their distance making us more acutely aware of the vastness of the world around them and the space that vastness has put between them ... Rooney’s insistence seems to be the opposite of a vulgar socialist-realist: the biggest obstacles to overcome on the way to a happy life — to a beautiful world — are the ones we put in our own way ... After all the tension in the book’s first three hundred pages, our characters find frustratingly frictionless fulfillment ... While I was moved by Rooney’s depiction of the love between her characters, while I believe in its enormity and its transcendent power, I don’t believe that it frees any of us from the duty to struggle. Love is not the salve that makes it easier to live in a cruel world; it is the bedrock from which we struggle for a beautiful one.
Beautiful World is a sweeping novel about devoted interpersonal attachment and the contours of a good life ... There are good lines and good sex scenes, good jokes, good observations. The problem with the book isn’t the emphasis on the erotic or the familiarity of the subject matter ... The problem is that, in a novel that purportedly makes the case for serious, engaged writing about compelling characters in believably messy relationships, Rooney has failed to give us any ... Beautiful World, Where Are You is more stylistically playful than its predecessors, less so on the line level than in its approach to narration.
Most of the book unfolds with Rooney’s typical effervescent prose, whose extreme readability lies partly in its narrative economy ... As in her past books, the life of the body trumps the life of the mind: I continue to find Rooney to be a remarkably unembarrassing writer of sex scenes and, if anything, wished this novel had more of them. Sounds fun, right? Well, sort of. While Rooney’s newest book luxuriates in the same bourgeois comforts as her first two...it adds yet another, more pedantic layer of realist detail to her characters’ lives ... It’s an epistolary novel meets Ulysses lite. The aesthetic goal is admirable, but the effect is haphazard, as the two parts of the novel never quite cohere ... One might expect these chapters to at least offer deeper insight into their friendship, but they more often read like extended abstract musings ... the stilted and superficial cadence of their letters hints at deeper troubles. This conversation between friends is dominated by thinky tangents, but the unspoken tension driving it is whether, and when, Eileen will finally visit her faraway friend. It’s an interesting conceit—to make theorization the deferral of real talk, real life—but it doesn’t make these sections any more readable ... these long philosophical tangents on the value of fiction, the meaning of art, and the decline of beauty read like overindulgent and anxious attempts to preemptively control the cacophony that surrounds the reception of her work. To read them is to feel the discourse winning.
... there is a certain voyeuristic aspect to the narrative, which for the most part follows the characters around like a film camera, reporting the minute details of their movements and interactions while granting no access to their inner thoughts. What the reader does glean is through their phone calls and messages, the checking of social media and—most revelatory of all—the online correspondence between Alice and Eileen ... an illuminating epistolary depiction of friendship. This is a novel of profound interiority, all the more remarkable for being crafted mostly out of detached exteriority. In the rare instance when it enters a character's mind, the effect is marvellous.
The novel’s treatment of sex trades on old tropes—the simmer of the sacred and the profane. But Rooney’s signature idiom—frankly erotic and insistently romantic—carries these scenes ... Many critics have compared Rooney’s straightforward prose to Hemingway. But the emphasis on spare language belies a certain narrative tenderness that I more closely associate with writers like Shirley Hazzard or Natalia Ginzburg, who supplies the novel’s epigraph. Emotional registers that in Hemingway’s hands would be schmaltz are in Rooney’s disquietingly taut ... If Beautiful World, Where Are You feels out of time, that’s because it’s an elegy for the era in which it occurs. If it isn’t a perfect novel, it is a tender one. Its retrospective gaze kindles its potential futurity. And believing in the future is, after all, an act of faith.
Is it worthy of all the prepublication buzz? With a few major caveats, you bet ... The plot, though delightfully dirty at times and compulsively readable, is nothing to write home about — mostly because it covers much of the same ground as Rooney’s previous two books ... though it admittedly feels wickedly satisfying to be caught once again in Rooney’s web of friendship-courtship entanglements, the pining glances, wounded squabbles and even the raunchy, sexy scenes aren’t the reasons to read Beautiful World, no matter how enticing — or rote — they are. Instead, it’s what Rooney does with the other chapters — probing letters between Alice and Eileen — that feels so experimental and exciting ... I don’t agree with everything Rooney has to say in Beautiful World — I’m sure harsher, headier critics will have a field day with some of it, too. Still, I found some of Alice and Eileen’s astute/scathing/snarky opinions about the state of things to be quite refreshing and accurate without being overly derogatory or nasty — and to that I say, 'Hallelujah.'
The discussion cannot be about the quality of her sentences, which are impeccable, or about her tone, which is thoughtful, often sweet-minded and always rigorous. This is prose you either get or don’t get; for some it is incisive, for others banal. Which makes me wonder if it is so clean, it reflects the readers’ prejudices right back at them ... Fans of Rooney’s previous work will relish the ache and uncertainty of her characters’ coming of age, her way with emotional difficulty and her brilliance in showing the barriers we put between ourselves and the love of others. The last third of Beautiful World, Where Are You, when the four characters meet and connect, is a tour de force. The dialogue never falters, and the prose burns up the page. It takes some time to get these people in the same room, however, and that movement towards intimacy is purposely delayed by Rooney’s descriptive prose, which heats up slowly ... it’s a bit like reading late DeLillo, until the characters have sex, at which point it is like reading Rooney at her coolest, with her distinctive choreography of the gaze, and of the breath, and a mighty precision about what-goes-where ... The last run of the novel is all generosity; personal details simply emerge, real conversations are held, insights abound. The reader will meet all this with a whoop of recognition, though it is possible that some will wonder why it took so long ... How do you follow two brilliantly acclaimed novels? Rooney has solved the problem of success by writing about the problem of success ... When a fictional writer opines that writers’ opinions should not matter, the real writer is either having her cake and eating it, or enacting the paradoxes her character so derides ... For the writer, a novel is a blessing that can not be refused. We must all be delighted that she, and her creator, have found a way through.
Rooney writes sharply and discerningly about her fellow millennials. The conversations about the rental market, Netflix, internet porn, ghosting, sexual fluidity and 'worst break-ups' will surely strike a chord with those youngsters who think and talk like her characters ... However, Beautiful World, Where Are You is surely not aimed at the olds, and the inclusion of Eileen’s confession that she 'broke down in tears because I couldn’t answer any of the starter questions on University Challenge' seems a sly way to poke any passing boomer into an instant snort of derision ... Relationships are the core of the plot and Rooney is a practised hand at writing sex scenes ... The intellectual ping-pong is better than it sounds ... The emails form part of a minimalist-style novel that has interesting variations in perspective, including narration from a third-person omniscient point of view ... a stimulating, enjoyable read. My main problem was that aside from rooting for the insecure, hypersensitive Eileen, I could not find it in my heart to care in the least about Alice, Felix or whiny Simon.
First of all: yes, this book is excellent. Not merely as good as the first two Sally Rooney novels but subtly, fretfully better in its intelligent, sympathetic dissection of life. You’ll love it ... Rooney restricts herself to describing surfaces, which results in a filmic realism and a regard for the privacy or unknowability of the characters themselves ... A sequence distilling Eileen and Simon’s backstory...is a joy to read, as is an entrancing account of a wedding, in which the promiscuous third-person narrator shows us decades of depth and pain and affection at breathless speed ... Rooney’s fiction continues to present a world in which the good end happily and this gave rise to some objection in this reviewer—as well as satisfaction. However, the slow unpacking and deepening of familiar themes—relationships, families, precarity and love in Beautiful World, Where Are You is intense, focused and entertaining: her concern is nothing less than the question of how, in the current moment, we should live.
Though we glean insights into Simon’s and Felix’s circumstances, their portraits lack the rich textures of the women’s. Evoking the charged intimacy between Frances and Bobbi in Conversations with Friends and Marianne and Connell in Normal People, Eileen and Alice’s dynamic makes Beautiful World another two-hander at heart ... As a contemporary take on the tradition of women’s epistolary writing, the novel’s recourse to emails seems a promising framework for Rooney’s much-touted character studies. But, while many aspects of Eileen and Alice’s missives are compelling, the digital conceit doesn’t quite land ... the staid email framework of Beautiful World is disappointing. Though one appreciates Rooney’s efforts to stray from a successful recipe, Beautiful World’s pacing also lags. It’s still a page-turner, but unlike Rooney’s earlier books, the simple sentences and hyperdirect exposition don’t always work toward a narrative payoff ... At times, reading the novel felt akin to watching reality television. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, having the characters move in their emotionally controlled zones, with their different personalities and ambitions butting up against one another in relatively predictable ways, makes the absence of Rooney’s earlier immediacy more apparent. Further distance is added by a quasi-omniscient narrator who occasionally appears and jerks the reader away from close proximity to a character’s point of view ... In trying to craft something more profound, Rooney has lost a bit of the nuance and the keen observations she’s known for ... Though Rooney occasionally seems paralyzed by her own anxieties, her new book breathes best when she attends to the details.
... [Rooney's] third consecutive banger...an intimate and piercingly smart story about sex and friendship that finds the profound in the everyday ... sensual with lingering details ... Rooney is masterful at finding profound meaning in the quotidian, in ramping up the tension and heightening the stakes in the most microscopic of interactions. The pages fly as fast as in any thriller to find out if these four young adults can figure out how and why to live.
In Beautiful World, a soaring new outing from a global phenom, Rooney hammers out the problems and promises of contemporary novels and contemporary life—all while reminding us of her distinctive style’s disarming intimacies ... don't mistake Beautiful World for a defensive crouch; this is Rooney stepping into herself as a fully-formed artist, ready to defend the validity and originality of her methods ... Beautiful World entertains the questions of purpose, meaning, and fulfillment that torment us in our late twenties, all of it tempered by the political and environmental collapse this generation stands to inherit ... Beautiful World combines the intricacies of Rooney’s lightning-rod style, like her deep well of sympathy for her characters and her precise economy of language, with a growing maturity. This is a more spiritual book than her previous novels—one that holds more wisdom, digs deeper into self-reflection, and lives more fully in its questions
Beautiful World, Where Are You...features a cast of characters who will certainly appeal to Rooney's many fans, but are a little further along the road towards adulthood ... Rooney is incredibly astute at depicting how people live online and use social media, and readers will give a rueful nod of recognition ... Rooney has a wonderful gift for dialogue and for capturing exactly how people spar with words ... But although her descriptions of how characters act and speak are sharply written, she has less to say about their internal lives. Her style is cool and somewhat distancing ... As a novel, Beautiful World Where Are You is less of a crowd pleaser than Normal People, and it is hard to imagine it making a seamless transition to the screen. But I found myself thinking about Alice and Eileen after the final pages.
The prose is extremely spare, even more so than in Rooney’s previous novels. The...narration feels at once oddly distant and voyeuristic. It also doesn’t make much sense ... Felix’s character is paper thin... [He seems] a romanticized representation of the Irish working class. This is an unusual lapse for Rooney, who has proven herself to be an excellent psychological portraitist ... Alice and Felix, somewhat mystifyingly, start sleeping with each other ... Throughout, their relationship feels, if not unbelievable, then at least a little inexplicable ... The novel falters when describing Simon and Eileen’s history—these passages feel lifeless, devoid of the gratifying urgency of Rooney’s first two novels ... Rooney is at her strongest when she focuses on the intricacies of individual interactions between people ... Rooney’s latest novel uses long missives...as a vehicle for political and philosophical issues. This formal choice, occasioned by Rooney’s desire to smuggle mini essays about matters not directly related to the lives of her characters, makes Beautiful World the most ambitious and least successful of Rooney’s novels ... One of Rooney’s natural gifts is writing conversation, both spoken and written. Her novels perfectly capture the way Irish millennials talk and text ... The main reason for Rooney’s astonishing popularity is not, as so many critics claim, the subtle, penetrating attention to class dynamics or even the illuminating way she writes about technology. It’s the sex ... Beautiful World...is a sincere, entertaining novel with a happy ending.
... everything Sally Rooney always does so brilliantly: absorbing, sometimes abrasive characters; unconventional romance; and beautiful, thoughtful prose. It also often feels like the novel is in conversation with itself, asking what the point is in a story about love, sex, and relationships, when humanity feels like it’s on the brink of disaster. What’s the point in anything really, when the problems that face us feel so insurmountable? How can the world still be beautiful while we’re in the process of destroying it? Despite these questions, Beautiful World...is far from bleak, weaving in a thread of belief that what makes a beautiful world is the people we love, the people who love us back, and the art we leave behind.
... an affectionate portrayal of love and friendship that sees Rooney dive deeper than ever before ... While the lengthy emails appear strange and old-fashioned at first, it’s where they discuss complex ideas from sexuality to climate change and identity, all the while giving the reader an insightful view into how Rooney responded to the realities of her own literary success ... what’s captivating about Beautiful World, Where Are You is how Rooney successfully writes about the mundanity of the everyday. The characters are ordinary and not particularly likeable, the plot doesn’t lead up to any big event, there is no climax and the romance is not glamorised. And yet, following four characters on their journey of self discovery is entertaining, even with Rooney’s deliberate avoidance of punctuation—a personal pet peeve.
Sally Rooney’s third novel, Beautiful World, Where Are You, dazzles with much of what we have come to expect from her: unadorned prose, psychologically nuanced relationships, and astonishingly life-like dialogue. But Rooney does not rely on her same tricks entirely ... jaded but no longer so sardonic, with more at stake than just the characters themselves ... The emails meander in philosophical, essay-like fashion with one clear theme still shining through: how to make meaningful lives 'on this rapidly degenerating planet.' Here, an author known for her talent writing dialogue takes a risk. The epistolary format limits the back-and-forth component of Rooney’s signature witty banter. But it also offers space for deeper insight ... In the sections between emails, Rooney returns to her more familiar 'will they or won’t they' territory, employing a third-person perspective as the couples get together, break up, and get back together again. She excels, as always, at exploring the murky feelings that surface when two people can’t quite define their romantic relationship ... the novel seems in direct conversation with its readers ... Rooney’s particular talent lies in her ability to capture millennial existentialism and dread while almost simultaneously soothing it. We find relief from the heaviness of today’s impossible questions, she suggests, through our connections with each other.
We’ll just say it up top: The sex is better ... the sex scenes in Beautiful World, Where Are You feel different. They’re more fully-fleshed-out, caringly crafted, reined in and doled out in equal measure ... But Rooney’s books have only ever half been about sex. Friendship is key ... At the center of Beautiful World, Where Are You is the long and loving friendship between Eileen, a literary magazine editor living in Dublin, and Alice, a successful, meta-Rooney novelist who, like the author, lives in a rural community on the opposite shores of Ireland ... Critics who found the avowedly Marxist-leaning Rooney’s novels less than communistic, might be pleased to find she tackles the subject here with humorous candor ... for those who have not read the earlier novels, Beautiful World, Where Are You is a lovely place to start ... But as Rooney grows, not only do her characters age—from their early 20s to their nearing 30s—so do her novels mature. Each book can be read as a response to the one before it, a reaction to herself, the world around her, and, quite possibly, her fans and critics.
She has tapped into the Millennial zeitgeist with her smart, funny writing about sex and relationships among 20- and 30-somethings ... It digs deeper, though, exploring the existential angst of living in today’s climate-ravaged world ... But what really caught my eye in this compulsively readable novel was Rooney’s portrayal of the stress Alice suffers because of the huge success of her first novel ... A terrific read.
I’m sorry to tell you that Sally Rooney has been listening to her critics ... Theoretically, it is a plausible and interesting stylistic development for someone who writes in the classic English novel tradition—a contemporary twist on epistolary. But in reality, the emails are like a spine: structurally integral but knobbly and rigid ... It isn’t that they are uninteresting—very few things that Rooney thinks or writes are. The problem is that they bear only tenuous relation to the business of the novel. They do nothing to advance the plot and weirdly little to flesh out the characters from whose keyboards they purport to spring ... Jammed between the emails is some of Rooney’s most beautiful writing. She made her name with two books that treat the mechanics of first love with sincerity and painstaking, sometimes painful, attention to detail; with her third, she has brought that sensibility to bear on a long love, stretching unspoken down many years, with even richer results ... It is a puzzle of a novel: brilliant and flawed.
While insightful, [the email sections] are intellectual and at times hard to get through ... They come across as competitive and passive-aggressive to me, hinting at a lot of self-doubt and competition between the two women ... In typical Rooney style, the characters are woven together in a way which makes me deeply invested. In Beautiful World, I don’t even really like any of them personally, yet here I am, peering in their windows, swearing at them, reading their long, earnest emails, watching them have plenty of sex and shaking my head at some of their poor decisions. Rooney is a master at crafting characters ... Part of Rooney’s appeal, I think, is the dialogue. Using no quotation marks, it’s simple, kind of thoughtless and as The New Yorker put it perfectly in the past, it gets inside your head ... It’s not my favourite of Rooney’s books, but with Beautiful World, she is back inside my head.
While it is the love dynamics that provide the novel with an undeniable electric charge that keeps the pages moving, the most memorable relationship in the novel is that of Eileen and Alice, whose long, discursive emails punctuate the plotted chapters. Their messages are thoughtful Socratic dialogues...it becomes clear how much Rooney has developed as a novelist ... Beautiful World seems to want to apologize to the reader for its insufficiently symmetrical politics. This is regrettable; the arguments that Rooney stages between her characters are the most generative parts of the novel precisely because they show how complicated these issues are ... The primary object of Sally Rooney’s analytical gaze is Sally Rooney herself, which is to the novel’s detriment in the end ... Beautiful World veers from the potential displayed early in the novel. Despite this, it is as delicious and compulsively readable as a Rooney novel ever was, a fitting companion for our journey to the end of history.
... if the emotional temperature of Conversations with Friends and Normal People was medium-cool, in Beautiful World, Where Are You it tracks closer to zero, at least for the first three quarters of the book. (In the last quarter, things warm up emotionally and the book sort of collapses.) The novel alternates between chapters composed in a chilly third-person objective mode and chapter-length emails ... The third-person chapters subject the characters’ fortunes to a deadpan gaze. The emails—by far the best bits of the book—allow Alice and Eileen to talk about ideas ... the low-temperature prose and the resolutely limited point of view are designed to frustrate the sort of easy identification with character that the earlier novels invited ... It’s probably cavilling to point out that the novel states its Big Themes (climate change, civilisational collapse, inequality, the possibility of religious belief) but doesn’t really dramatise them ... There is a fascinating undercurrent of hostility towards the reader. This novel wants both to satisfy and to alienate its audience: both to scare off the plain folk who wept over Connell and Marianne and to create equally vivid characters in the frame of an equally moving love story ... What’s good about this novel? Many things. Alice and Eileen are convincingly real. Rooney writes about sex superbly well. The book is full of interesting ideas. Its various unreconciled elements (the soapy ending; the fact that Felix and Simon are wish-fulfilment figures rather than believable characters), jostle fascinatingly alongside the richness of its ideas, the stray pleasures of its prose and the complexities of its ambition. The faults of gifted writers are often more instructive than the competencies of bad ones. Accordingly, Beautiful World, Where Are You is not just worth reading. It’s worth thinking about.
One wonders if they—and Rooney‘s publishers for that matter—have actually read it, since, alongside all the extraordinary descriptions of sex and worldly conversations about books, it’s an anguished cry against the commercially powerful and psychologically challenging situation this globally feted author now finds herself in ... The problem Rooney comes up against is that Beautiful World never quite bears out her own defence. We can’t quite fall in love with this quartet, or indeed find them particularly interesting. The email essays are very interesting but they don’t feel convincingly embedded within the characters who write them. What’s more, there is very little drama or momentum ... Rooney still writes beautifully steady, clear-eyed sentences and remains excellent at parsing the micro tensions within individual encounters, but there is a new self-conscious to her writing. This feels like a very personal novel; a cri de coeur from an extravagantly talented writer who has become badly disillusioned with the world, and even at times with the novel form.
While this feels like the best written of Rooney’s novels, firmly establishing the talent behind her precipitous rise to fame, there are weaknesses. We never quite get to the heart of Felix, the love interest of Alice. Alice and Eileen, good, bookish girls both, can be difficult to distinguish ... Their exchanges, filled with theoretical digression (entertaining but implausible – who has the energy to send life updates in the form of mini dissertations?), are a way for the politically conscious Rooney to alternately challenge and defend writing books about relationships ... I’m hoping that, for the next book, Rooney writes further out of her comfort zone. She is skilled in capturing romantic dialogue and tension, but it’s starting to feel all a bit familiar ... One of the most intriguing themes in this book wasn’t the will-they-won’t-they but moments where millennials reckon with religious culture ... I’d love to see Rooney expand on this theme, rich for introspection and interrogation. After all, what relationships and religion have in common is loyalty, tests of faith, love, submission, doubt, and belief in something bigger than the solitary unit of the self. She’s certainly got the chops to do it.
If Alice’s takedown of contemporary fiction serves as a thesis of sorts for the Irish author’s self-reflexive third novel, it also demonstrates the book’s twofold nature. At one level, Beautiful World, Where Are You is about a writer, cast rather conspicuously in the mold of Rooney herself, navigating the fallout of a personal crisis. But at another, more compelling level, it works as an extended dialogue between Alice and Eileen, who communicate through email for much of the novel’s duration. Their correspondences form the book’s intellectual backbone, invigorating Rooney’s prose with a sharp critical edge ... The novel preserves a measure of distance between Rooney’s characters, giving the reader time to study them in isolation until a trip to the beach erupts into a painful confrontation. It’s a clever tactic for a novel interested in its own internal contradictions. I found myself treating it like a game, searching for thematic overlaps, omissions, and inconsistencies in their stories ... The novelist-critic dialectic isn’t new to Rooney’s work, but the critique she articulates in Beautiful World feels more methodical than in her earlier novels ... If Beautiful World is satisfying at the level of narrative—that novelistic plane where characters get together and break up and get back together again—in the end, I can’t help but find its critique truncated, cut off too soon ... It may be that Rooney has met the limit of her abilities at this point in her career. It may also be that she’s met the limit of her form. Realism is no longer real, she tells us. But as the prevailing mode of literary production, it also lacks the political means to shatter its own illusion. This is to say that the conventions of the novel, congealing alongside the middle class at a time when the laboring masses were denied any sort of aesthetic experience, may well be designed to capture and accommodate unorthodox political thought—to drain it, in effect, of its critical powers. Even so, Rooney’s gesture toward radical transparency raises a tantalizing prospect for left-wing fiction writers who seek a broad readership. There may yet be hope for novelists who wish to break the grip that market logic holds on the real.
As these questions emerge between characters—through their conflicts, actions and speech—they animate the narrative. As they are explored in Eileen and Alice’s sometimes tendentious emails, their primary mode of communication, the ideas can seem undercooked, the vegetables of the meal shoved to the side and easily ignored ... Rooney’s decision, though, to keep the reader out of the heads (although not the bedrooms) of the characters, especially of the two women protagonists, notably a writer and an editor, can leave the reader impatient with being fenced out. Why can’t we be made to better understand Alice’s shakiness, her rage? ... The song also, at the very last, unleashes the conflict between these characters and nudges them out of the doldrums into action. After this, the writing takes on a new power, moving us to a place where the past and a larger world collide. One wishes, then, not for Rooney’s wittier early novels, but for this writer to sidestep too small a beautiful world and to let loose her voice—and her characters’ voices too.
Sally Rooney doesn’t repeat herself. Rather, she is a pentimento artist, building a familiar world in a way that makes it feel boldly new ... Rooney manages the tonal shifts with a dexterity that will make the reader nod appreciatively. Reading her novels is like standing onstage to watch a magician at work and still not being able to discover exactly how she manages to perform the trick ... The beautiful world, the characters find, is right in front of them. All they have to do is open their eyes to see it.
Rooney’s new novel, her third in four years, is a passionate, earnest, vulnerable, often affecting and above all dysfunctional piece of work ... Everything that is cherishable in the book, and everything that is botched and baffling, comes from the ways in which Rooney has pushed herself and risked falling short ... For long stretches, the novel, though pitted with Rooney’s brand of local insight, fails to be conventionally engaging. But that seems in part like a strategic sacrifice ... Rooney...has kept faith with a work that, in its remoteness from its characters, its persistent atmosphere of near-pomposity and its sacrifice of what Alice calls structural integrity, is liable to confound or at least divide her legions of fans.
... a structure that is clever, and makes the reader wonder how Rooney will have the momentum to pull it off continuously. While the emails between characters do tend to reveal more of the personalities of the characters, they feel like Rooney attempted to place essays on art, beauty, religion, and the problems with capitalism ... The prose is the reason for Rooney’s popularity. Nearly a whole chapter takes place with Simon checking his phone as the only surface action. It’s a small space of simple actions, but given the context of the messages and subtle reactions, Rooney offers graceful insight into their relationship and motives. Rooney’s work has been deemed millennial, because she knows how to use the ways technology and consumerism affect relationships and general communication. Beautiful World, Where Are You is an interrogation of beauty in a plastic world.
Rooney has put Beautiful World, Where Are You in the paradoxical position of having to defend its own relevance and worth ... Beautiful World, Where Are You may be Rooney’s most overtly, or self-announcingly, political novel ... Rooney doesn’t feed her reader easy answers: she asks us to question the importance of the novel, and the place of readers, from first principles. Whether or not you find the answers comforting, believable, or realistic, is a personal matter.
There is nothing subtle about this repurposing. There is a fatalism here: the cards are what they are, the author cannot change the pack, she only shuffles them, deals them out, plays them ... The emotional logic of the whole novel could not be further from what one might assume of a millennial novelist. And often this feels like part of Rooney’s joke ... laced with humour ... The gently mocking presence at work beneath all this never eviscerates the characters, it is very loving towards them, and it offers no invitation for us to dissect. If some books instruct us on how to read them, this one doesn’t seem to mind: you can take Beautiful World as a straightforward love story, hear the ribbing, or the Marx. But the seam that we should be able to peel up and peek under, so we can delight in the workings of character, plot and self, has been perfectly sealed, as if to avoid confrontation. And this is a cop out: a capitulation ... The triumph of Beautiful World is that two very beautiful characters who have always been in love with each other overcome the slightest of obstacles to do exactly what the whole of modern society is set up to help them do. If you love them, it works.
Normality has totemic significance in Rooney’s writing: her characters either think of themselves as ‘special’ – that is, smart and sensitive but stranded among normal people – or they yearn to be normal rather than fucked up and damaged. There is a relentless keeping score on this account, not only of who is a ‘normal’ person but of who is a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ or ‘nice’ or ‘evil’ person. Every action, every bit of behaviour, may reveal an essence. It’s a strange way of portraying characters who are basically innocent and not in the least weird ... That Felix is also kind to his dog completes the cornball Hollywood logic of his appeal, a redeeming quality in a dumbass bore ... How much you enjoy Rooney’s novels – enjoyment is the point, and there’s no denying her broad appeal – depends on your attitude towards her characters. I’m not talking about likeability, or the moral status these people are constantly calculating, or their relentlessly avowed leftist politics: that’s fine – plenty of people talk a radical talk and live their lives as complacent liberals. I mean simply: are they interesting? ... There is lots of sex. For a good span of the novel, every chapter that isn’t an email climaxes with a sex scene. These weren’t my thing. Relayed in a cold third person, they lack the emotional point of view of the sex in Rooney’s earlier books, which are sparer and less porny. They sound not unlike moving furniture, and have something in common with a couple of scenes of Felix sorting packages at the warehouse.
[An] ambitious novel that deepens her earlier themes ... Unlike Rooney’s previous novels, parts of this one feel self-consciously artsy, with a chapter-long backstory and paragraphs that run for many pages. But on the way to its heartfelt destination, this flight is still smooth despite brief, mild turbulence. Rooney writes with uncommon perceptiveness, and her ability to find deeper meaning in small details, such as knowing how a friend takes his coffee, remains unparalleled ... Beautiful World, Where Are You is a brutally honest portrait of flawed characters.
Rooney's biggest ideas are tucked into wide-ranging, intellectual yet warm emails traded back and forth between Eileen and Alice. Unpacking shared anxieties about climate change, religion, abandonment, the book industry, and, of course, love, Alice ends each letter with a plea for Eileen to come visit ... Rooney proves she's still unnervingly adept at picking out the tiny ways humans try and fail to hide our vulnerabilities. The way a close friendship conducted mainly over revealing, long-distance missives can feel shy and angsty in-person; how a small, polite deflection mid-conversation can be used to hide a well of loneliness ... Some might argue that Rooney's themes of young Irish love and friendship in Beautiful World, Where Are You are repetitive of her earlier works. But in the end, Rooney argues, what else matters? I wholeheartedly agree.
The greatest strength of the novel is Rooney’s play with distance. She brings the reader so close to her characters—we are inside of their inboxes again, after all—only to hold back at key moments that, if elucidated, could unlock some of the mystery of the will-they-or-won’t-they engine ... Almost every second chapter is an email. Structurally, this means longer paragraphs; narratively, this means more interiority. It’s not as bad as it sounds: Rooney is good at email ... The significance of the emails between Alice and Eileen—which are long, thoughtful and frequent—is undercut by the mean things they have to say to each other when they finally meet up again in person. This deflation makes it harder to believe that the emails meant much to anyone except the individual writer herself. Perhaps Rooney is commenting on what it means to be online and how textual closeness doesn’t always translate to good hugs. Mostly it’s just sort of embarrassing ... will feel familiar to Rooney fans because of the pangs of longing, email exchanges, and haircuts with bangs featured throughout. The surprise comes in the novel’s closing email, where Eileen writes to Alice about refusing to be afraid of her own body in the face of climate change. If the sense of optimism feels pat, it is because readers have come to know the twinge of pain underscoring even the happiest moments of the author’s past protagonists. But there is no irony in the earnestness of this novel’s close. Rooney announces the beautiful world is here, and we are in it. Yes, everything is covered in plastic! But we still love our friends! Eileen responds in the final email: 'I know in a thin rationalist way that what I’m saying doesn’t make any sense. But I feel it, I feel it, and I know it to be true.' It’s not ecstatic or wretched; yet, we too can believe.
... something of a mixed bag. Even if opposites do attract, it is hard to fully believe in Alice and Felix's blossoming love ... Rooney also taxes us with the rambling e-mails Alice and Eileen send one another ... Her narrative becomes engaging when her characters swap self-absorption for interaction. We may have to surrender disbelief in places, but otherwise we marvel as Rooney continues to write convincingly and captivatingly about human relationships in all their relatable complexity.
Chunks of the novel come in the form of emails. This is a very lifelike arrangement: action followed by reflection on the action, living and reliving in memory what’s just happened or what’s long past. Life happens quickly, but it lingers and accrues meaning with each retelling ... The emails are some of the best parts of the novel ... In Rooney’s work, meaning evolves through repetition. Everything turns into words eventually and glistens.
There is no possible evaluation of Beautiful World except that it more than meets the inflated expectations of an eager reading public. While some reviewers have found the polarizing ending to be ruinous, they seem to be shrill, minority voices; Rooney’s newest effort continues her career as the voice of a generation ... The book is not heavily plotted and continues Rooney’s signature style—which many find alienating—of describing the characters in a rather passive, limited third-person voice that denies the reader access to the character’s inner thoughts. At the beginning of chapters/scenes, this third-person narrator often sounds like a film voiceover, relaying information similar to what Kurt Russell’s Narrator does in Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, for instance. This makes the book seem incredibly procedural as it describes exactly what the characters are doing without giving the motivations for it. Rooney does, however, change things up a bit and give the reader some sense of what Alice and Eileen are thinking; every other chapter is an email from one of the women to the other, relaying recent events and digressing into discursive discussions of politics or history (hello there, Bronze Age Collapse) written in the first person. The email chapters are excellent as much for their digressive, tangential structure and what that reveals about the worldly preoccupations of Alice and Eileen as for their window into each protagonist’s personal psyche ... a superb ending to a superb book.
While there are moments that discuss what it means to be a good person, it feels like an unexplored road for Rooney considering how religious her Marxism can feel. In some ways, this seems to be the point of the novel, a hymnal of anxiety against the outside world ... Some of these moments, as when Eileen keeps a gratitude diary, feel full of sincerity. They contain the feeling of desperately trying to hold onto life as it keeps slipping away. But it can bubble over into absurdity when it seems every hue is 'glistening pink like a wound.' Plenty of crisp light abounds and what at first felt like tasteful decor begins to feel like concealment ... Still, few write as cuttingly about waiting for a text as Rooney does. This push and pull of denying the self perpetuates internalized misogyny about deservingness, though she certainly observes masculinity with scrutiny as well. Rooney women frequently flail at asking for what they want and seem to only be aroused in situations where men exert power over them in a way they have (perhaps imagined) control over. It isn’t entirely clear that either of these women have all that much power in their emotional relationships. The book shies away from dealing with this in the end, instead choosing a rather saccharine ending with neat hugs and hot tears ... These little moments where Rooney can describe how fragile and slight human connection is, how difficult it can be to ask for what you want for fear of not getting it, these are the moments worth staying for if one can stomach the rest. I don’t believe Rooney writes as much about care so much as fragility. Being broken can be a sweet, horrific thing—especially if you have someone praying for you.
Rooney’s most interesting thoughts aren’t given the attention they deserve. And if I’m being honest, her most salient points feel salient only because they remind me of conversations I have with my friends and peers—in particular, fellow writers—every day. The thoughts her characters espouse aren’t original, but they are persisting. That’s not a negative: Validating what others have always thought and felt is its own kind of literary genius, speaking clearly to the interior lives of millions in a simple way. But the insistent classification of Rooney’s work as Marxist has long felt like a stretch, and that’s clear in Beautiful World, which just feels like a good love story, not something groundbreaking, although the characters are constantly fretting over huge social issues ... perhaps because an 'All’s well that ends well' wrapping is the chief obsession of this story, its reflections on society and its characters’ vague admissions of white privilege feel superfluous. They would make sense in a collection of fully fleshed-out essays; within a novel, though, they feel contrived, as though Rooney planted them in order to give herself permission to write love stories ... It’s simultaneously a bit too much and not nearly enough ... I didn’t just struggle to think of something interesting to say about Beautiful World. I actually struggled to criticize it at all, because Rooney’s most stimulating passages feel like they’re wrenched directly from her heart.
The format of Sally Rooney’s third novel is excitingly novel, but the need for the characters to posture as intellectuals throughout completely undoes the effect ... The chapters between the emails seem to be told at times by a clueless third-person narrator who, at other times, has an intense, invasive access to their past. The whole of Eileen’s childhood and growing-up years is vomited out in one hurl of a chapter ... The first-person emails, coming after the chapters in the voice of the unnamed narrator, serve to clarify what the character was actually thinking in the preceding chapters. It is an exciting set-up — the events in one chapter and the interiority of the events a chapter later — but the need for the characters to posture as intellectual beings throughout completely undoes the format ... Rooney notes in the acknowledgements that a London Review of Books article on the collapse of the Bronze Age helped her write Eileen’s emails, where she pontificates on civilisational catastrophe. It is a section that feels utterly barren because it is insincere — it’s like writing what you think you should be writing. Eileen, Alice, and Rooney herself seem to be reacting to issues such as class, climate change and collapse at an intellectual level, which has no effect whatsoever on how they lead their lives ... Does Rooney’s unparalleled ability to craft tense conversations have something to do with this uneasy coexistence? While her dialogues are precise, at times they are too measured, almost rehearsed ... The men are at various stages of being emotionally neutered — in ideology or in practice. This makes me question if desire is intensely gendered or if that is a sexist notion. Alice is said to be bisexual, as is Felix. How would they behave with same-sex lovers, I wonder.
Even the narrator’s omniscience is hesitant. The syntax rolls back over established facts...There’s something artfully skeptical, bemused or confected about this. Like the resistant pull of the meta-narrative’s awkward fabric, these are deliberate glitches in what might otherwise be mistaken for the seamlessness of a rattling good tale. A pernickety, forensic exactitude in the laying-out of facts is often in tension with a sense of cloudiness or provisionality ... The narrative drive of breaking up and staying together swells and dwindles as Rooney’s larger artistic and ethical questions frame it. It makes #BWWAY a 'normal' kind of novel that flickers with inklings of maverick potential as Rooney chafes against the publishing machinery that now defines her.
... a novel that yet feels refreshingly old-fashioned ... Writing with her trademark truthfulness and wit, Rooney compels with both these meta-conversations and the actions of her characters’ lives: their enthralling, intimate, and consequential grappling with themselves, with one another, with desire, and with the world.
In many ways, this book, a work of both philosophy and romantic tragicomedy about the ways people love and hurt one another, is exactly the type of book one would expect Rooney to write out of the political environment of the past few years. But just because the novel is so characteristic of Rooney doesn’t take anything away from its considerable power ... A novel of capacious intelligence and plenty of page-turning emotional drama.
Rooney’s third novel deals with some of the emotional dynamics and ideas explored in Conversations with Friends and Normal People but expands and enriches them by depicting human dramas against vast historical backdrops, amplifying art’s essential status in human life. Once again, she has written a masterly and significant work of fiction that is both traditional and innovative.
Rooney continues her exploration of class, sex, and mental health with a cool, captivating story about a successful Irish writer, her friend, and their lovers ... Alice and Eileen update each other in long emails, which Rooney cleverly exploits for essayistic musings about culture, climate change, and political upheaval. Rooney establishes a distance from her characters’ inner lives, creating a sense of privacy even as she describes Alice and Eileen’s most intimate moments. It’s a bold change to her style, and it makes the illuminations all the more powerful when they pop. As always, Rooney challenges and inspires.