Sally Rooney: Beautiful World, Where Are You (Faber & Faber 2021)
Many thanks to 21. Század Kiadó for sending me the book!
Sally Rooney was born in 1991 in a small Irish town, Castlebar. Her poems were already published during her high school years. She went to college in Dublin: she studied English literature and politics, then graduated with a master’s degree in American literature. She wrote her first book, Conversations with Friends, during an exam period, then the book was published in 2017 and was immediately nominated for several awards, and the writer was chosen as the young writer of the year. A year later, Normal People was published, which brought her worldwide fame. It won the title of Irish Novel of the Year and has since been translated to 46 languages. It was published in Hungary in 2020. Before the publication of the third novel, the British publisher launched a large-scale marketing campaign in which canvas bags, umbrellas, hats, pencils and t-shirts with the novel’s title and cover were available. The world was abuzz with Rooney-fever and bookstores opened early to sell copies. The writer declared that she could not deal with the media hype and moved back to her hometown, where she lives in almost complete isolation with her husband.
The title of Beautiful World, Where Are You comes from a poem by Friedrich Schiller, and like Rooney’s other novels, its protagonists are young adults. Alice is a writer and her best friend Eileen is an assistant editor at a literary magazine. After the university years in Dublin, their paths diverge, but they continue to exchange long emails, in which they tell their deepest thoughts. They reflect on society, existential problems, religion, but mostly the importance of friendship and love. Their story is intertwined with that of the two men around them, Simon and Felix. They love and hate each other at the same time, but ultimately they all want to be happy.
The writer depicts the life of people in their thirties very accurately. After leaving the university and finding themselves in the gray everyday life, how do their former plans to save the world change. They feel that human society has pushed itself to the brink of extinction to such an extent that they are already in the last lighted room. The writer formulates a harsh criticism of capitalism and society, but the story does not give up hope. It shifts the emphasis from large-scale actions to everyday moments: human relationships and conversations. The appeal of the book lies in the fact that we can look into the lives of the characters: we can read their messages, see into their family relationships, and in some places we also get lyrical descriptions of their close environment.
Although the novel is not characterized by fast-paced action, its style is so direct and captivating that it can be read almost in one sitting. I hope we can read many more books like this from the author.