Alice is a feted novelist whose success drove her to a nervous breakdown so she has abandoned Dublin for a quiet seaside town. Two worlds collide when she embarks upon a tentative and often fraught relationship with factory worker Felix.
Alice struggles to navigate her fame as “a widely despised celebrity novelist”, explaining that it “makes me feel I am already dead”. It is impossible not to wonder how far Alice’s views overlap with Rooney’s own.
Alice’s best friend Eileen remains in Dublin, lost and lonely without her and still stalking her ex-boyfriend on social media. She finds herself drawn back to family friend Simon who she has adored since she was 15.
Their relationship initially appears one-sided but, over the course of the novel, its nuances are revealed.
Ultimately, Alice and Eileen long to live in a more beautiful world – fair, free, sustainable. Less violent, less greedy. Can they make peace with the gulf between their dreams and reality?
The story of the characters’ overlapping lives is interspersed with philosophical letters between the two friends, expounding their thoughts on everything from religion to the collapse of civilisation. Though thought-provoking, these jar with the absorbing stories of her characters’ relationships.
Rooney is a perceptive, clear-sighted writer, alive to people’s complexities and anxieties, their longing for love and the way they can sabotage it.
But this cautiously optimistic novel suggests that perhaps Alice and Eileen’s beautiful world lies within the bonds of their own friendship.
Beautiful World, Where Are You – Sally Rooney
Faber & Faber, £16.99