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Beautiful World, Where Are You

by Sally Rooney

Publishers Weekly Rooney (Normal People) 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 Kelleher, 29, has suffered a nervous breakdown as a result of her work’s popularity. After moving from Dublin to a small seaside town, she meets Felix, a local with a similar background—they both grew up working-class, and both have absent fathers—who works in a shipping warehouse. She invites him to accompany her to Rome, where he falls in love with her but resents what he takes to be her superior attitude. Meanwhile, in Dublin, Alice’s university friend Eileen Lydon works a low-paying literary job and explores her attraction to a childhood friend who seems to return her feelings but continues seeing other women. 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. Agent: Tracy Bohan, the Wylie Agency. (Sept.)

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Kirkus Two erudite Irishwomen struggle with romance against the backdrop of the Trump/Brexit years. Eileen and Alice have been friends since their university days. Now in their late 20s, Eileen works as an editorial assistant at a literary magazine in Dublin. Alice is a famous novelist recovering from a psychiatric hospitalization and staying in a large empty rectory on the west coast of Ireland. Since Alice’s breakdown, the two have kept in touch primarily through lengthy emails that alternate between recounting their romantic lives and working through their angst about the current social and political climate. (In one of these letters, Eileen laments that the introduction of plastic has ruined humanity’s aesthetic calibration and in the next paragraph, she’s eager to know if Alice is sleeping with the new man she’s met.) Eileen has spent many years entangled in an occasionally intimate friendship with her teenage crush, a slightly older man named Simon who is a devout Catholic and who works in the Irish Parliament as an assistant. As Eileen and Simon’s relationship becomes more complicated, Alice meets Felix, a warehouse worker who is unsure what to make of her fame and aloofness. 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. As Alice herself puts it, “Humanity on the cusp of extinction [and] here I am writing another email about sex and friendship. What else is there to live for?” A novel of capacious intelligence and plenty of page-turning emotional drama. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.