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16th Sep 2021

Review: Sally Rooney’s Beautiful World, Where Are You

Katy Thornton

Warning, slight spoilers ahead!

Last week we wrote about Sally Rooney’s third novel hitting shelves – the 7th September was fondly referred to as “Sally Rooney Day”. It was lovely to see so many people flocking towards bookstores to pick up her latest.


The novel follows best friends Alice, a successful novelist, and Eileen, a copy editor for a literary magazine. The girls exchange emails as a way of staying in contact, while dealing with their respective love lives. Alice invites Tinder date Felix to Rome on a whim, and Eileen tries to figure out her feelings for her childhood crush.


This novel is quite different to her previous two. While there’s the familiar miscommunication between characters, and certainly similarities between the female protagonists, the layout and setting is quite different. While her previous novels were primarily set in Trinity concerning the lives of students, these characters are in their early thirties and a part of the working world.

There are some beautiful passages in this novel. Rooney is at her best when analysing the loneliness of millennials, and dissecting their awareness of this. The emails between Alice and Eileen read more like Sally Rooney’s own musings on civilisation as opposed to two friends catching up, and as such, at times they felt misplaced. My main criticism is that Alice and Eileen have interchangeable personalities. Though it’s not unusual the friends would be similar, I felt they needed to be more distinctive as their own people.

This is not a plot driven novel. If your major gripe with her previous novels is that nothing happens, well, much less happens in this one. Rooney is a writer who is naturally more character focused.

However, Rooney did something different with the form of this novel and that should be recognised. The epistolary style emails won’t be for everyone, but I think I see what she was doing with them. Alice and Eileen’s “closeness” is often spoken about, but they actually spend very little time together in the novel. The emails serve as a way to portray how we remain friends with people we can’t be physically close to, or how we try to at least. It provides insight into Alice and Eileen’s personal thoughts as the novel is written in the close third person. The emails every second chapter switch to first person, which is refreshing.

Final Thoughts

If you need a novel that is fast paced with tons happening, I would not recommend this. Rooney writes beautifully and precisely and avoids unnecessary plot points. My main advice would be to manage your expectations going in. I personally prefer Rooney’s previous novels but I am happy to have read Beautiful World, Where Are You. If you love Rooney for her writing style, her third novel won’t disappoint. It is simple and strong and if you love that, definitely get down to your local bookshop and read it!

Header image via Instagram/faberbooks

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