A story of two high school friends now approaching their 30. In that hazy zone when they feel they should become adults, but they don’t really feel like ones. This place when you think you’ll have it all figured out by, but it turns out you don’t and your life is a mess. Through a series of emails they share their struggles and thoughts about the world. All in search of love and meaning.
Before I jump in a disclaimer: please feel free to think I have been living under a rock, as I haven’t read or seen Normal People. So this is my first interaction with Rooney’s writing. I stayed away from her first book, because the story line, as described by everyone felt too touchy feely for me, especially in the midst of the pandemic. I just thought it will either wake my inner cynic and make it lash out, or alternatively it’ll resonate with me so much that I am going to fall to pieces. Th avoidance may have been a survival mechanism in this case.
I would not buy Beautiful World… either, I just didn’t feel I’d jive with Rooney’s writing. But I got it in a very nice box from Books That Matter. And one does look a gifted book in the pages.
Alice and Eileen are friends from high school. We first meet Alice as she has a weird date with Felix. Then we get to know her and Eileen better through their email exchanges and we do follow some events in their life directly. They are both around 30, both related to a literary world, Rooney rightly plays to her strength by writing about what she knows. Even if often she is scathing in her observations. Eileen also brings Simon into the mix, a man she’s known since childhood and whom Alice also met in high school.
We observe the push and pull happening between those four, Alice, Eileen, Felix and Simon over the source of a year. Alice and Eileen are both miserable, for very different reasons. But they also share their concern about the world and their emails are a mix of updates on what’s been going on with general musings on the state of the world and whether it is indeed coming to an end, or maybe those informations are a bit premature.
My problem with this book is that I am closer to 40 by now. So the emotional crises and pseudo-philosophical musings felt very pretentious to me. At the same time I do relate to some of Alice’s and Eileen’s angst. I just have little patience for emotional self-sabotage that Eileen seemed to be constantly engaged in. Very little patience. On the other hand I did enjoy Alice’s character very much and I really often felt it would be interesting to actually read some of her books. Felix also was an interesting complex character, while Simon felt a bit like a goody-two-shoes.
In the end I was annoyed so much I struggled to come back to the book to finish it. I finally did, but then the ending, while it made sense, also felt a bit instant to me. It just happened. I won’t say more not to spoil it for you, but I think you’ll understand when you get there.
I know Rooney has been often hailed as a voice of the generation, but to me her observations felt immature and somewhat lacking depth. Yes, sometimes they did feel familiar, but only because those are the simplest of conclusions on which we all have to hit a some point, they are not revealing any truth about the world or ourselves.
As you can see I am a bit on the fence, but falling more on the side of annoyance, despite the true pleasure I had in reading about Alice an Felix. I probably won’t be running to a bookshop anytime soon to get Normal People.
Here you can find some other reviews of this book, because we all know, the more points of view the merrier!
Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska