It has been 18 months since the screen adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Normal People entranced audiences worldwide with the electric relationship between Marianne and Connell. One pandemic later, Sally releases her third novel, Beautiful World, Where Are You?
Moving away from the students who previously featured in her novels, this book focusses on four characters in the 30s, fumbling their way through professional life. The two women are both in the literary industry. Alice is successful author whose two novels have recently shot her into the limelight, drawing parallels with Rooney herself. Alice’s best friend Eileen, on the other hand, is struggling to establish herself as the editor of a literary magazine. While Simon sails through life in a white-collar office job, Felix works shifts in a distribution centre. BWWAY? promises to expand on themes of class, gender and capitalism previously explored in Rooney’s novels and lead us on a journey to find beauty in a world which is dictated by a toxic relationship with profit.
During a rare Q & A at London’s Southbank Centre on publication day, Rooney gave insight into why she tackles these themes. She revealed that as a socialist novelist she doesn’t input her beliefs and values into her books to convince anyone that they are correct, rather she does it to open the floor to discuss them. When asked about how she writes in a way that Millennials and Gen Z resonate with, she jokingly admitted that she has no idea if readers will find the characters or situations relatable, as if her talent for capturing life so accurately is a pure gift.
There is no doubt that Rooney is a gifted writer, and her eloquence on the issues of shared rented housing, unsustainable consumer habits, and the hierarchical classification of different categories of labour were unmatched with anyone I had heard speak before. Rooney is also, of course, commended for her realistic depiction of intimate relationships. When asked ‘Sally, how do you write good sex?’ Rooney laughed and responded there is only a limited vocabulary she can use without cringing. The main point she shared was that every interaction between her characters happens because it drives the narrative and therefore, in every interaction there must be a shift in power. Unless something significantly affects a character when they go to the shop, the trip to the shop won’t be featured in the text. It is this, along with the exploration of the unknown and guessing what the other person is thinking, that Rooney credits for her success of capturing intimate relationships.
Rooney has been dubbed the quintessential millennial novelist, encapsulating the mood of a generation (or more accurately two) and uniquely representing their delights and their worries. She can touch on the seriousness of the climate crisis that we have little to no control over and in the next page have us chuckling at her witty account of mundane activities as relatable as using the ‘find and replace’ feature in a Microsoft Word document. As always, it is the love and friendships developed between the characters that deliver the beauty in Rooney’s novel. Beautiful World, Where Are You? has already received rave reviews from critics and has been hailed Rooney’s best work yet. If her previous novels are anything to go by, this one is certainly worth a read.
Image Credit Chris Boland / www.chrisboland.com