‘Considering the approaching civilization collapse, maybe you think children are out of the question anyway’. This is just one of the many politically layered sentences you come across in Sally Rooney’s most recent novel. After her hit book Normal people, she is back with a new book; Beautiful World Where Are You. And in my opinion, this is her best book yet.
The success of Sally Rooney
Ever since her debut novel Conversations with friends Sally Rooney has been a worldwide bestselling author. “So good… This novel is the best I’ve read on what it means to be young and female right now”, quoted the Daily Mail. And her success might be exactly because of this.
She wasn’t trying to be some person fascinating to her, not trying to understand the brains of an unreachable creature. She just is a young woman growing up in the same day and age as I am.
When reading one of Rooney’s novels I cannot help but feel understood. Even though times are changing, most popular authors in this world are male. Often they are not exactly young either. I never realized the female leads I was reading were most often middle-aged male authors’ perceptions of young women. Still, some of the female protagonists written by men count as my favorite characters ever. But when I read the novels of Sally Rooney something clicked. She wasn’t trying to be some person fascinating to her, not trying to understand the brains of an unreachable creature. She just is a young woman growing up in the same day and age as I am. For the first time I really recognized my own thoughts and behavior in the characters I was reading about.
Beautiful world where are you?
In her latest release, we follow young people struggling through life, as we do in all her novels. But never before were the lives of the people we are following so intertwined with politics.
In the book, Alice, a novelist, meets Felix who works in a warehouse. She asks him if he would like to travel to Rome with her. Simultaneously, her best friend Eileen is in Dublin trying to get over a break-up; slipping back into flirting with Simon, a man she has known since childhood. All characters are still young, but life is catching up with them. They desire each other, they delude each other, they worry about sex and friendship but also the world they live in. Are they standing in the last lighted room before the darkness, bearing witness to something remarkable? Will they find a way to believe in a beautiful world?
Are we wasting time by investing so much effort in love and friendship? Are there more significant things to do?
We follow the main characters in their daily life as well as the letter correspondence between Alice and Eileen. In their letters they write to each other about their longings, their love and their failures. And also about trying to see the use of it all when you know the planet is slowly going to end our current civilization and the food you buy in the beautifully wrapped packages make many people suffer. Are we wasting time by investing so much effort in love and friendship? Are there more significant things to do? Or is caring about each other the only thing to praise us for, even when there are other things we should be doing? Eileen explains in one of her letters she kind of likes humans for caring this much about each other. Should we like humans because we choose to care about love over saving the human species from extinction?
Capturing the feelings of a generation
The big influence of politics in her books might make you think she writes for a niche audience, but nothing could be less true – her novels have been topping book sales rankings in many countries. It seems to be that a big part of the younger generations do in fact see politics as such a big part of their lives that it casually pops up in conversations. Therefore, she has also been praised by many people for being able to catch the thoughts and the way of living from the younger generation growing up in the world we currently live in.
This, and of course she can be praised for her marvelous writing style. Her books make you want to keep reading. She creates characters that are so realistic you have a feeling that you actually know them.
Her best book yet
In my opinion, Beautiful World Where Are You is Sally Rooney’s best book yet. Never before did Rooney manage to grab my personal feelings and my political frustrations this well. I thought her book was comforting, challenging, clever and funny. I could not stop reading it. The kind of book that feels like you could just live in the world created on the pages. When I finished it I really missed her characters for a while.
I sincerely hope this is the beginning of many more books written by young female writers to come. And of course, books from Sally Rooney herself. She shows the world that politics don’t have to be a no go in a novel about love, sex and friendship. I can’t wait for what the future brings on books that cover my generation. Because when you look for it, there is still a beautiful world to find.
Edited by: Yili Char
Cover: Lit Hub