Episode 2: Review of ‘‘Beautiful world, where are you ?’’ by Sally Rooney

Copyright @DeliaCristianaStamate 2021

The following review contains spoilers.

The following review has no intention to offend anyone and it is just a personal reflection.

A new version of Count Vronsky (portraited as Levin),

together with a modern Julien Sorel

are the main characters of one of the most read books of 2021.

General view

Reading the first part of the book (till the moment the 4 characters meet) made me feel awkward, so uncomfortable, and gave me the impression that it’s not the characters fault, it’s the fact that they are badly written: their essence is missing. It does not make me want to know more, it just makes me think I know so little about them and makes me question why. Why do I know so little about them?

ItIt is a speed reading book, but the action is interrupted every time by the letters sent between Eileen and Alice and that’s what makes the book hard to swallow. As a reader, I really didn’t want to know about the characters’ personal reflections, I wanted to find what’s next, to judge the protagonists through their actions, but I couldn’t, because I had to read their reflections and it was the last thing I wanted to.

I believe – and this is my personal view as a writer that, as an author of this genre, you cannot bore people, you need to give them what they want and what they want is to know what’s happening next, especially when it comes to love stories. Personal reflections can be included through scenes, dialogues, situations, that will make the story more plausible (e.g. a confession to a priest, a visit to the psychiatrist).

Also, the exchange of letters is not genuine enough due to the fact these emails are way too long. Nowadays, if people want to talk more, they send recordings via Whatsapp or Messenger, instead of typing 5 minutes, and I feel like a transcript of these recordings would have been much more interesting to read.

Through the letters, I feel like I read more about the author’s personal views rather than the characters’ personal views.  I believe this is because the characters are not build well enough to reflect the views described in the letter through their actions. The girls normally start writing about the boys, their visits at the museum, their trips and other life theories, but what they write seems to be in a contradiction with the way they act.

This is the reason why, as a reader, I am still not convinced about the characters, I still cannot picture them, I still cannot hear them speaking to me. You may think that because there is so much information in these letters, you get to know the characters better, but what actually happens is that you still don’t find out much about them, it feels like you still know so little about them.

In my opinion, the book would have been so much better if the story would have been written from all the 4 characters’ perspective: Felix’s part, Simon’s part etc., as the characters lack their essence, and makes me feel like I cannot connect to them. I want, but I cannot. I think it would have helped to get the men’s perspective as well, as it would have shown a whole different perspective.

On the other hand, I do not know if this was the intention of the author, meaning to give us less information, but every cloud has a silver lining: I find that the impact of this little knowledge is a very good reflection of the society nowadays, showing young people doing one thing and thinking another.

The book seems genuine portraying the lifestyle in Ireland nowadays, by mentioning lots of Irish things that Irish people would know (e.g. singer Thin Lizzy etc.). At etc.). At the same time, it feels it lacks substance, it feels like I am reading a book where style takes over the substance, as these words of hobbies or habits of Irish people are just thrown in to make you feel like the action is genuine.

The sex scenes are so badly written, interrupted by dialogue and lack of passion, lack of emotion, lack of anything. It feels like ‘‘50 Shades of Grey’’ written by E. L. James without the porn description.

The characters

Regarding the characters, at the beginning of the book, Simon seems to be the Catholic version of Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) from the movie Vicky Cristina Barcelona (made in 2008). As the story develops, there is a parallel made between Simon and Levin’s character in ‘‘Anna Karenina’’ written by Lev Tolstoy, Simon admitting he sees himself as Levin.

But is he really Levin? Isn’t he more like the modern Count Vronsky, who deceived Anna throughout their entire time spent together, even though he was always visiting her? Isn’t he, like Vronsky, lacking the desire of commitment and establishing a family, even if he had a long term kind of relationship with Anna? Doesn’t he have the status of a ‘‘young officer’’, as Count Vronsky (and definitely not the higher status that his mother wanted), but still a good status: politician?

I feel like Simon wants to be Levin so much, when in fact, he is such a Vronsky. Some would say he is still a Levin, as he gets his happy ending, but let’s just remember that Vronsky also married Anna and had a daughter together and that does not mean it is necessarily was a real happy ending.

On the other hand, Felix is the young Julien Sorel from the famous ‘‘The red and the black’’ written by Stendhal. A bisexual Julien Sorel, which also engages in a relationship with another bisexual, Alice.

Julien Sorel was portraited as either the capable worker as himself believes to be or as the fugitive behind one of the biggest means of defense such as Napoleon or the Church. As Julien is lost in between the black (portraying the Church) and the red (portraying the Army), between the life before and after Napoleon in the French society, same is Felix portraited between his life at warehouse and his life after the warehouse with Alice, who is a millionaire writer, who took him on holiday to Rome, having Felix ended up volunteering and helping out elderly people, becoming a man of leisure.

Julien doesn’t have the desired job, same as Felix, who works in a warehouse, outside town – the only difference is that on Julien’s time that was because of his social status, and in the case of Felix it seems is just a job that generates him an income and one who got because he lost the previous one, through a time of grief.

Wasn’t Julien aspiring for a higher position in the society when he seduces Mathilde, in order to finally get the social status desired? Isn’t Felix a modern version of Julien Sorel, by changing his social position and the way people see him, as the boyfriend of Alice?

 The main characteristic of Julien Sorel is that he succeeds because he is seductive. Is Felix seductive? I would say he is, he made Alice interested in him, by expressing his firm views, same as Julien did.

Another character that was had a great potential was Damien, Felix’s brother. I feel like Damien gave to Alice the best characterization of his brother and that he should have been developed more into the story, as his voice really made a difference to the storyline.

Best quote

I believe that the best quote of the book belongs to Felix, in his discussion over a cigarette with Alice, after she tells him about his mental breakdown, when Felix talks about his feelings after the death of his mother. It is so amazing the way he reflects about life, questioning what is the meaning of life, giving a very Nietzschean approach to his speech.

Felix also gives one of the best speeches of the book, when he talks to Eileen, in Alice’s house, one morning, making her put things into perspective. It feels like Felix moves the pieces of the puzzle and makes his moves in such a way that everyone is responded to his actions.

His wisdom is very noticeable, and it is great, as it gives such a great perspective for the readers.

Worst quote

While Alice and Eileen were sun bathing, in Chapter 26, Felix and Simon came out of the water, wet, speaking to each other, while the girls were watching them…I will spare you for the rest of the details. This was one of the most lame scenes of the book and made me feel like I am watching a Baywatch scene.

Clichés

There is a big cliché while portraying Eileen’s family. She’s portraited like the failure of the family, leaving in the shadow of her sister Lola, while her shining hero is Simon.

Also, I found that other big clichés mentioned in the book, in chapter 22, showing what every young girl desires and hopes for her life, which never happens, but still I found it an accurate description of the generation nowadays. Also, the girls’ fight and drama behind, the mental breakdown, the crisis of getting married are all moments that women pass throughout their lives.

However, I find it is important that she put this into writing, as many readers can relate to that and feel like their voice is heard.

Relationships

Both relationships: Alice – Felix and Eileen – Simon seem to be based on the fact that the opposite attracts.

Felix and Alice relationship does not feel genuine, I don’t feel like they should be together from the first place. Alice invited him to Rome and she paid everything for the holiday. I would have expected a challenge, a constant challenge, something that would build the tension between the two of them, which will end up with them having great sex, instead the trip killed the story with its monotony. It felt like I was expecting the New Year’s Eve fireworks and instead all I got was a champagne bottle spilled all over the living room.

The relationship between Eileen and Simon feels so empty, they never had a timing, and their time has never existed, it feels like they have nothing even if they have something, due to the fact Simon is such a paternal figure, being always there for Eileen, like a big brother or like a father.

What was also poorly portraited was the response of Simon and Felix to girls’ fight and speech, it didn’t seem genuine, they had too much patience and they seem to be to understanding to their worries and thoughts.

I feel like the relationship between Felix and Simon should have been explored more. A main twist to the story it was this book needed, when Felix started to be interested in Simon’s life. The characters seem to have a dark side and I would have loved to see more darkness: maybe what was missing in the relationship between Alice-Felix and Eileen-Simon and in the friendship between Alice-Eileen it would have been filled in with a story line between Felix- Simon. I would have loved to see how Felix, a bisexual, would have tried to put things in a different perspective for Simon, a convinced Catholic – Simon and Felix, the believer vs. the sinner.

Influences

The book made me think a lot about F. Scott Fitzgerald. The style of writing is similar and I have always felt that I would have loved the characters to develop like Dick and Nicole or Gatsby and Daisy, even if it never happened.

Chapter 18 mentioned a big stereotype about Museum d’Orsay in Paris, mentioning it is too big and too crowded, whereas in fact, for a Parisian, a busy museum is Louvre, and an intimate one is Orsay, both situated in the same park, one at the side, the other at another. The analogy made me think about Gatsby and the big parties… which we all know that they are the most intimate one. Chapter 26 was written as an antithesis to the scenes described by the beach in ‘‘Tender is the night’’.

 It made me think if Sally Rooney is the next Fitzgerald, a Fitzgerald of our times, portraying  the ’20, but not the 1920, but the 2020.

Conclusion

It feels like the author knows the characters, but doesn’t know how to show them to us, that’s why I feel so awkward reading what they do.

It is a well written book, with great references, but from my point of view, the emotion is missing, everything seems so rigid, and personally, I would have loved to embrace the characters more. It made me feel like there is no beginning, there is no end.

However, the end of the book brought me a big disappointment. Personally, I believe that at the end of a book everything needs to be wrapped up like a bow and here it was not. When I finish a book, I normally don’t want to know more about the characters, because I learnt everything I had to about them. I don’t want to know more about the story, because everything that I wanted to be said was said.

In ‘‘Beautiful world, where are you ?’’, I didn’t find out enough about the characters, but I kept hoping that I would and while reading the last chapter, I just got annoyed that it ended the way it had. It felt like the whole potential of the book and the way the story was going was ruined by a happy ending. It felt like selling the American Dream or the 1 million lottery ticket, after a life full of misery, which made it feel so unrealistic. All of a sudden, time passed, the pandemic hit, but the characters got a happy ending, while the biggest twist of the book was women’s existential crisis in their 30s.

I also find the title of a book very important, some would say crucial. The fact that you are questioning where the beauty in life has disappeared and that this answer is found at the end of the book drives me mad, as said before, the ending is so utopian.

I liked the fact she used so much influence from the classic literature and at the same time she added new elements: for example, the drugs or the way she flirts with the queerness in a classic manner while portraying the influence of religion in the society nowadays is putting things in new perspective for the readers. I also liked the ethics used in the book and the fairness given to points made.

I don’t know if I would recommend it for a reading or not, but what I know for sure is that this book definitely made me think what I like about books and what I don’t, and it’s been a long time a young author had me question so much about the way of writing and the influences used in a book. It is definitely a good lecture, possibly overrated in ratings, which brings an interesting perspective of nowadays society, through the eyes of a young Irish author.

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