Saturday, September 25, 2021

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I got the email my hold for this book was ready on OverDrive, I almost suspended it for another month or so. I have many other things to read, and I'd forgotten this might be coming soon. But it was a hot new release, and I decided to go ahead and dive in while there's still ample discussion of it so that the whole internet could be my book club, bouncing reactions around like so many book-geek pinballs pinging off each other.

I'm so glad I did. I've been struggling for a while now to maintain focus when reading, there's just too much craziness from the world and my own life poking holes in my concentration. Sometimes I don't have a problem, and other times I set the book aside and binge-watch reality TV (damn you, Peacock, and your backlog of Below Deck seasons!). I'm getting through far fewer books than I did just a few years ago, and I need something to really grab me and pull me in. Beautiful World, Where Are You did just that. 

The core of the story is about two friends, Eileen and Alice, and their loves, sex lives, worries, work, fears. Disaffected, dissatisfied, searching for something that they might not even know how to enjoy when they find it. Hmm, that sounds grim. Well, it's not, really. In part it is, as I saw much of this as people with loads of good things going for them, but who still couldn't quite be happy. But that also felt extremely realistic to me. It's hard sorting out your life, your relationships, what path to take, finding a connection to others, even when you seem to have a lot in your favor. This living thing, it ain't always easy. And the characters learn and grow together in a satisfying way.

Most of the book involves chapters alternating between scenes from a given character's life (four in total, when you add in Simon and Felix), and correspondence between Eileen and Alice. The first letter was in chapter two, and it was a strange and jarring read (to me, at least) just because I wasn't sure whose perspective we were seeing or what was up. That may be down to me needing a second to get pulled in and focusing on the story of late, I don't know. But I quickly got my bearings and was happily in for the long haul.

I love the way Sally Rooney delves into her characters. It feels oddly all surface, yet you see so much of their fears and challenges. So many obstacles being things they put in their own way. So true, as I think we're all damaged to some extent, and some of us much more than others. How do you learn to make a life, form close relationships? It's harder for some. She depicts that well, though typically for people that have quite a bit of gifts in their corner that tend to make life easier (good looks, family money, writing talent, intelligence, or a combination of these things). But I get it, life and your own issues can be hard to navigate for all of us.

Anyway, I liked the book a lot. I read the ebook, but there's a version airing free on BBC Sounds made of 10 episodes, 13 minutes each. I'm sure this must be an abridged version, but for those who want to fit more books into their life, a series of brief episodes makes it oh so much more doable (and the quality of these BBC versions is top notch).

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