Book review: Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney

All hail Sally Rooney, right? The long-awaited third novel came out mid-September, and you bet I got hands on it as soon as I could. But did it live up to Normal People’s levels of angst, frustration and complex characterisation? You bet your booty it did! It had even more! And I’m going to talk about it!

Rooney’s two previous books can only be described and Rooney-ish. They are stories of character progression, love, sex, relationships, flaws and poor decisions. But God they are GOOD. Conversations with Friends was her first book, and WAS my favourite. After reading Normal People, my initial rating was 3/5 stars because of how upset I was about it not having a happy ending. But, as time has passed, I realised it was about more than that, and there was deeper meaning behind what DIDN’T happen. Rooney writes books that are realistic, and after watching the Normal People TV show, I feel further in love with her characters, complexities and all.

Beautiful World, Where Are You is a story about four characters: Felix, Alice, Eileen, and Simon. Mainly focusing on Alice and Eileen, the story begins after Alice (a novelist much like Rooney herself – intentionally, I’m sure) moves out of the hustle and bustle of Dublin central to a huge old cottage on the coast of Ireland, away from her best friend Eileen, in an attempt to get over her traumatic past. Here she meets Felix, and the book explores their relationship and personal struggles.

Alice and Eileen keep in contact via emails, and the book explores how their relationship fractures from time apart because of their own internal struggles, and significant lack of communication. Eileen was my favourite character in this book, and I even found myself relating to her. She’s an editor at a small literature magazine just trying to make ends meet. She’s anxious, sad, and struggles with comparison. She is human, and I love her.

As the story progresses, the characters put up with so so so much CRAP as they try to understand themselves and the world around them; to find the joy and to find the beauty. Sally Rooney makes characters so real and some truly so awful, and that is exactly what makes her books stand out to me. But my favourite part of the book was the way it progressed to the ending, and from this point onwards I will be spoiling it just a liiiiiiittle bit. You have been warned.

At the end of the book Alice and Eileen have a massive argument after finally aggressively admitting to each other how they have been feeling. It is an accumulation of frustration about life, significant unaided and unspoken mental health issues, and realising that they actually have been treated like shit by their significant others.

The book then skips forward around 18 months into the time of the pandemic, with two emails from Alice to Eileen and vice versa. Despite the situation they find themselves in (you know, big scary deadly pandemic), both Alice and Eileen are happy, and have found beauty within an awful period of time for the world. It feels as though they have stopped asking ‘beautiful world, where are you’, and instead, ‘beautiful world, THERE you are!”.

I really wasn’t expecting the ending that we got, but we got it, and it was AMAZING. I think I actually shed a tear. Being in lockdown absolutely didn’t help the way it made me feel, but Sally Rooney really did say IF YOU ARE CONTENT WITHIN YOURSELF, THEN LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL.


There is honestly so much more that could be said about this book, but they are the main points that have stuck with me. I love you Sally Rooney, thank you for showing me what a beautiful world and a beautiful life really look like. This is my favourite Sally Rooney book. 5/5 stars.

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