At times transcendent, but at others cringe-worthy. In Beautiful World, Where Are You Sally Rooney crawls so far into her own butthole that she manages to shout out of her mouth “do not look at my talking butthole! You don’t know me!”- and once in a while she says something so beautiful that you wind up saying “thank you so much, butthole!”.
Reading this book was a journey, to say the least.
Originally, I picked it up on Pub Day and tore right in; I adored Normal People, enjoyed Conversations with Friends, and had been waiting for a new Rooney with the impatience of an eight-year-old on Christmas Eve. I made it about half-way in and then…
I stopped reading, not only this book, but almost EVERYTHING. I chalked it up to being overworked and overstressed- man, things must be really bad if I couldn’t even read this book that I wanted to read, right?
WRONG! Turns out it was both you AND me, book!
Once again, we are in the heads and beds of miserable post-grads. Once again, they are mucking about in Ireland and fucking around with each other’s emotions, friendships, and bodies. Again, the “haves” and the “have nots” are engaged in an increasingly cringe-worthy ballet of manners. Again, people who should not be friends are forcing their friendships onto each other.
…but also, we again have achingly perfect depictions of doomed relationships, self-sabotage, good sex, bad sex, and the general anxiety of being a human being.
Damn it, Sally! For every spoiled author throwing a glass on the ground and threatening to kill themselves the second their dinner parties go off the rails (uggggh) there is a touching memory of child-hood make believe- or a rowdy birthday party brought to silence by a young man in a sweat suit singing traditional Irish songs…but then those beautiful bits are once again dashed to bits with characters who are writers pontificating on parasocial relationships between readers and writers. Beautiful World, Where Are You is a masterclass in thinking that you are writing a masterpiece, I suppose.
Should you be tempted to dip your toes into Rooney, this is not the place to start. Go read Normal People and then watch the Hulu adaptation on repeat until the end of time. If you are a Rooney completist, or if you are morbidly curious- then go ahead, Reader. Cannonball on in.