Beautiful World, Where Are You: A Novel

by Sally Rooney

Hardcover, 2021




Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2021), Edition: First Edition, 368 pages


Fiction. Literature. HTML: AN INSTANT #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER Beautiful World, Where Are You is a new novel by Sally Rooney, the bestselling author of Normal People and Conversations with Friends. Alice, a novelist, meets Felix, who works in a warehouse, and asks him if he'd like to travel to Rome with her. In Dublin, her best friend, Eileen, is getting over a break-up, and slips back into flirting with Simon, a man she has known since childhood. Alice, Felix, Eileen, and Simon are still young�??but life is catching up with them. They desire each other, they delude each other, they get together, they break apart. They have sex, they worry about sex, they worry about their friendships and the world they live in. Are they standing in the last lighted room before the darkness, bearing witness to something? Will they find a way to believe in a beautiful world?… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member kayanelson
I’m so surprised that people like this book. It shows a lack of originality. Similar to Normal People it deals with old friends, who, surprise, surprise, have sex with each other. Then Rooney uses emails between the 2 girlfriends to discuss “the meaning of life.” Honesty, that shows a lack of
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creativity and writing talent. She took the easy way out. I didn’t finish the book because it was keeping me from reading.
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LibraryThing member froxgirl
This is not a novel that will be universally admired, even by those who loved the Normal People Netflix series. Those who love it are a perfect circle Venn Diagram with those who also cherished JD Salinger's Franny and Zooey: it's a testimony to the necessity and the futility of love. It's very
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white and packed with privilege, and even Felix, the seemingly rough working class Tinder-swipe guy, turns out to be a keenly sensitive philosopher. The focus is on Alice and Eileen, two college friends who struggle to stay connected while growing apart. Alice is a successful novelist who resents her own celebrity and financial gains. Eileen feels dead when a three year relationship ends and falls back on childhood friend Simon, who always seems to rescue her but never seeks anything for himself. Their scene in church, where Simon finds peace and consolation while Eileen struggles to justify Simon's quiet faith, is the best in the book. The depth of the fraught relationships between all four, and Alice and Eileen's meditations on what matters, which is captured mostly in letters with an occasional outburst of face-to-face confrontations, is almost stream-of-consciousness and the reader ponders (though she SHOULDN'T) what's Rooney and what's the characters. There are too many gorgeous passages to pull a few quotes from and share - the entire book is quotable and to be venerated.
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LibraryThing member Narshkite
Sally Rooney finally wrote the book I fell in love with. IMO, it is far and away her best work, I quite liked Conversations With Friends and I had a love hate thing going on with Normal People, but through it all I loved her writing and knew eventually it would come together for me, and here we
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In part I imagine this book is more approachable for me because the characters are around 30 rather than around 20. I am far from either of those ages, but the 30 something stuff still feels familiar in a way the 20 something stuff does not. But though that is a factor, I don't think its so much a question of the maturity of the characters as it is the maturity of the writer. There is an assurance here, and a real understanding of how people talk to one another. The earlier books are filled with dialogue that rings false. When two 20-year olds at an elite university are talking the endless melodrama and regular resort to obscure literary quotes seem on brand, but grown ups do not talk like that. In prior Sally Rooney books they did. Here the conversation feels natural and right for the characters. There is a series of emails between the two main female characters, Alice and Eileen in which they discuss politics, religion, literature and philosophy in ways smart people might have those discussions. In earlier books someone complained of having cramps and in response someone quoted Lao Tzu or the Brothers Karamazov. Everything seemed like a non-sequitur.

There is among three of the four main characters a pervasive sense of melancholy. They are adults, they did the right things, two of them have achieved a degree of objective success (doing the work they want to do and getting money and recognition for that) two of them are very attractive to boot. All are miserable. A good deal of the misery is self-imposed, caused by their rejection of anything good because of their fear that losing a good thing will hurt more than never having a good thing. Quite a bit of the misery is also due to a fear of looking stupid or foolish or getting rejected which leads several characters, but most especially Alice, to be prickly and aggressive so people do not see her pain and vulnerability. That all feels real to me. It is frustrating, and you want to shake the lot of them, but it feels authentic, and Rooney is a wonderful reporter.

Through a lot of the book I was thinking that what I was responding too was the fact that the pall of melancholy had replaced the melodrama in the last two books, and melancholy feels better to me. That opinion, that we had gotten past the melodrama, turned out to be wrong as can be. Just when you are thinking we are going to stick with quiet melancholy, the melodrama returns! The denouement for the three characters who have been friends for many years feels like it could have been snipped from Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf or maybe The Boys in the Band (the real one or the far less interesting Ryan Murphy version.) Which is to say it was insanely melodramatic, but also wonderfully melodramatic -- the platonic ideal of melodrama. It was great, and it ended with a quiet resolution, a moment when everyone just got worn out and moved forward, and were better for it.

We are talking about Sally Rooney, and I know it pisses people off that her work is so white girl normcore, so I guess something must be said about that. This story is filled with shiny, angsty, highly-educated white people who talk about being socialists and are NOT in any way socialists. That is not an issue for me -- many readers like all of their fiction to look like a Benetton ad, and that is not a goal for me. Though I am thrilled to see characters from groups not often seen in popular literature represented more and more, some stories are just about shiny highly-educated white people, and those can be great stories too. (End of public service announcement.)

Rooney tackles many themes in this book, and opens up space to think about and talk about things that are obvious but to which we have become so inured we barely notice them. Some examples: the ways in which celebrity has become our substitute for religion; the ways in which celebrities have become a substitute for friends, with people commenting on their personal lives as if they had the information and the relationship required to form and merit an opinion; and, power dynamics and relationship rules in the age of feminism, sexual and gender creativity, and consent. The last is perhaps the most damaging for the books characters. We can all agree (I hope) that inclusion, communication and express consent are necessary and good. That said, as in life, the consent elements in the book's sex scenes were uncomfortable and very not sexy. Relatedly the dancing around the inner pull of typical gender roles versus the intellectual rejection of same can cause a lot of disconnect. If I want a man to take care of me what does that say about me as a feminist, and if a man wants that role and also fully respects his partner how does he proceed. There is also an intriguing side story about sexuality (view spoiler) All of these things, the changing sexual mores, definitions of commitment, gender roles, consent make it really hard to have a bonded happily-ever-after relationship, and that is something that many people long for. Toss into that the fact that we have basically brought about the end of the world sooner rather than later, and the concept of future, of the writing novels, marriage and children, really even of romance, seems almost absurd. Its a lot. And yet these four people lurch, often against their will, toward connection and future, and they are compelling as all get out as they do.
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LibraryThing member adzebill
Some beautiful observation of the knots we tie ourselves in over relationships, and the way we misunderstand each other, told in a dry, deadpan, almost pitiless fashion. Although we shouldn't read the author's thoughts into the characters' statements, Rooney is practically begging us to, with one
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character a young Irish writer, unexpectedly successful, who excoriates the literary scene and toxic fandom. Two characters send long emails to each other for a good chunk of the book which read like short opinion pieces railing at the world, not much like any email exchange I've ever encountered. But still. The precise prose and irritatingly human characters wins out,
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LibraryThing member Romonko
Tell me again why this book won best fiction book of the year on GoodReads? For the life of me I can't figure it out. I must be really out of touch with contemporary literature and Generation X and their issues because, even though the book did get a little better for me for the last 1/3, it was
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still entirely forgettable. The worst thing was that I couldn't stay awake when I was reading it. I don't remember the last time that a 340 page book took me five days to read. I almost put it away numerous times, but I persevered because the book was a SweetReads book. They are usually worth the effort even if they aren't in my preferred genre. I don't think that it helped that I didn't like any of the four characters, and this book has only four characters. I am giving the book two stars rather than the one that I was considering because of the improved last third of the book. That is where the story started to come together a bit, but definitely nothing was resolved by the end of the bool. This could be partly because there is no plot in the book. I read and enjoy books for character development, gripping plot and/or historical insight, and for story development and descriptions of places (especially places that I have never been).. This book had none of these. The characters were unlikeable, there was no plot, and certainly no storyline either. The book is set in a small Irish seaside town, but it could have been written from anywhere in the world because nowhere in the book is there a description of the village or the surrounding countryside. Thank goodness I finished it and can put it away. I may not be as rested when I begin my next book, but hopefully I'll be a lot more satisfied, and not disappointed with myself for wasting my valuable reading time.
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LibraryThing member ASKelmore
Best for:
Fans of Sally Rooney’s books.

In a nutshell:
Eileen and Simon have known each other since they were little. Alice and Eileen have been friends since university. Eileen and Felix have just met. Events transpire.

Worth quoting:
“I think I have by now forgotten how to conduct social
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intercourse. I dread to imagine what kind of faces I was making, in my efforts to seem like the kind of person who regularly interacts with others.”

Why I chose it:
This was in a book subscription I got, and it’s the only hardback fiction on my to-be-read bookshelf, so thought I’d finally read it.

Sigh. I think this is a book I’m ‘supposed’ to like? Or maybe I’m too old for it? The main characters are all in their 30s, and I’m in my 40s, so perhaps this is just not for me? But I’ve read other fiction where the leads are all much younger than me and enjoyed those, so maybe it’s just this author’s style that doesn’t sit well with me. I enjoyed her first book “Conversations with Friends”, though “Normal People” was fine, and enjoyed this the least.

It isn’t that the story isn’t believable, or that there is anything inherently wrong with it. It just isn’t very good. Or should I say, it isn’t constructed in a way that I found interesting. I finished it mostly because it was a pretty easy read (though my kingdom for a paragraph break or a set of quotation marks) and I’d already started it. I briefly saw one review that it was an attempt at a modern take on 18th century novels of letters, which, absolutely fine, but the emails that take up half the book are borderline absurd. Maybe that’s the point! But I can’t imagine anyone really writing to their friends in such a way. I mean, perhaps people do, but I think people text their thoughts? I don’t know, perhaps this was Rooney’s way of trying to knock texting, or make a social commentary on how we choose to interact with those who don’t live near us. If so, cool. But it still didn’t work for me.

As for the characters, I guess I cared about them? Again, I don’t know. I suppose I should have seen Eileen’s personality early on, but the Eileen in the second half of the book could have been a complete different character from the Eileen in the first. Also I suppose the focus was on the women, but giving a little bit of background to the men frustrated me because either we’re going to get to know them or we aren’t. Going halfway there didn’t work for me.

I’d imagine being a lauded author with one’s second book even better received than the first can create a lot of pressure for the third, and I hope that this is the book Rooney wanted to write regardless of how it might be received. I think a lot of people are going to enjoy it. Just not me.

Recommend to a Friend / Keep / Donate it / Toss it:
Donate it
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LibraryThing member LindaLoretz
"They really cannot tell the difference between someone they have heard of, and someone they personally know." (p. 328). Kindle Edition.

Sally Rooney is intriguing, and her prose is undoubtedly engaging, relatable, and thought-provoking. While reading about thirtysomethings Alice, Felix, Eileen,
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and Simon, I repeatedly thought about my interactions with millennials. Live in the moment! Be wary of commitment. Don't honor the institutions of your parents. Make every conversation political. Honor gender roles if they are convenient; if not, show how senseless they are. Religion is pointless. Sexual orientation is fluid. Relationships can be fleeting or lifelong. Meetups and hookups are ordinary life. Social media prevails. If these are millennial mantras, then Rooney has captured them well in her characters.

Alice Kelleher, a best-selling author, hates herself and her fame. However, she is proud of her ability to intimidate others. She meets Felix on Tinder, and although their first "date" is a failure, she invites him to accompany her on a business trip to Rome. Rooney touches upon professionals' fine line between business and personal lives but emphasizes the precarious nature of Alice's psyche and ability to have live relationships. Throughout the book, Alice communicates via email with Eileen, her former roommate and current best friend. The email exchanges between them include intimate details of their lives and much thoughtful philosophical banter about the world: politics, religion, capitalism, etc. The emails contain some of the book's best writing, and besides highlighting Rooney's craft, the characters reveal their innermost thoughts through these beautifully written prose pieces.

Eileen Lydon has a longtime friend named Simon, whom she has been in love with since she was fifteen years old. He is five years older than she is. Simon seems to also be in love with Eileen, but communicating their honest feelings seems difficult for both of them. Simon's Catholicism and belief in God seem to be a significant obstacle for Eileen since she views his faith as a sign of weakness. The author explores the difficulties of a platonic relationship, especially when good friends choose to become lovers. Eileen and Simon have to work through the plusses and minuses and weigh the risks of allowing romance to ruin their friendship. Of course, since Eileen is a copy editor for a magazine and in a dead-end job making little money, there are questions about whether she is comfortable allowing Simon, who has a lucrative career, to provide for her. Will this arrangement lessen her sense of self and fulfillment?

The four main characters' interactions could be analyzed ad infinitum. I strongly suggest you join the discussion.
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LibraryThing member nivramkoorb
I read Rooney's previous book "Normal People" based on the hype and it didn't live up to it. This time this book was available at the library so I thought I would give her another try. Again, not up to the hype. The book deals with 4 thirty ish people from Ireland who interface. Alice and Eileen
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are best friends since college. Simon is Eileen's best male friend who she met when she was 15 and he was 20. They have had a sexual relationship but over the years their friendship is what binds them. Felix is a working class guy that Alice(who is a best selling author, sort of based on Rooney herself) hooks with while in Western Ireland renting a house after a nervous breakdown. Rooney created characters and relationships that were hard to believe in. This can be a function of how 30 year olds actually operate but none of them grabbed. I will say that the book did make me think about my relationships from my 20's and 30's and we were also very questioning and viewing the world as black and white. For that aspect and the final third of the book when the 4 characters were all together raised it to a 2.5. If you are interested in a very popular young novelist then I would suggest "Normal People" which was also a series on Hulu.
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LibraryThing member muddyboy
If you are a fan of three page paragraphs and insecure troubled people - this is the novel for you. The central characters are Alice (a successful novelist) and her best friend Eileen with whom for most of the novel she communicates with in massive text messages. These are unhappy people who
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eventually somehow attract two men into their lives who are also pretty aimless. Lots of anguish and soul searching in this one. If you are familiar with Rooney's Normal People - I guess these people are a bit better adjusted. There is a hint of hope at the end of the book.
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LibraryThing member Dreesie
This is my first Rooney, and I have to say I liked it much more than I expected. I can see why people love her, though personally I cannot related to any of the characters in this book, who largely spend decades avoiding actually talking to each other and then are frustrated, angry, anxious,
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whatever, because they avoid having those conversations. Good lord.
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LibraryThing member Iira
I really don't know why I like Sally Rooney's writing. The characters are very similar to the previous books, apart from Alice who is rich and famous. It doesn't really help, though. On the contrary, everything is as difficult for her as it is for everyone else. If not more. And money doesn't
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really make her any different, when I think of it. She is exactly like all the other characters in Rooney's books. No one really struggles financially, even when they don't have money. They just have it so bloody DIFFICULT. All the time. But still, I read the books and enjoy them. So there. Go figure.
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LibraryThing member ccayne
I was disappointed. Despite the abundance of sex, I found the writing sterile and the dialogue formal and unrealistic. Maybe, people in their 30s speak this way and live this way but I have yet to see it. My final comment is that the ending was equally improbable and too convenient.
LibraryThing member leah152
I DNF'ed it. I just couldn't get into this book. It was really hard to get to know the characters & the whole time I was reading it I kept thinking 'WTF are you doing!?' Mostly to me it's just a couple of couples making stupid decisions. If that's what normal life is like in your 30's these days,
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I'm glad I missed it.
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LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
This book centers on two young, Irish women as they exchange emails. Eileen works for a small literary magazine, for which she earns almost nothing. She's unhappy and also unhappy about Simon, her childhood crush, who loves her but she doesn't want to risk their friendship with a relationship.
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Alice is a famous author who had a break-down and is now renting a home on the coast. She meets Felix on a tinder date and while they don't really hit it off, she invites him to come with her to an author event in Rome.

Sally Rooney is the new Jonathan Franzen when it comes to polarizing authors. Her notoriety came when her first few books were highly regarded and she became (unwillingly) the face of millennial fiction. There was the inevitable backlash, and this novel seems to be part of her working through that through the character of Alice. I'm agnostic on the subject of Sally Rooney (do not get me started on Franzen, I have strong opinions there); I loved her first novel, liked her second one fine, and found this one the weakest, but whether she's the Voice of a Generation or whatever, I don't care, just let me read.

Rooney structures her novel with first an event told in the third person, followed by an examination of that same event by one of the women, usually accompanied with their musings about the state of the world and some intense navel-gazing. I'm all for these things, but the repetitive nature of the structure, as well as the characters's lack of development through most of the novel left me feeling bored. I did think the final scene was fantastic, but I wish that the pay-off had been achieved with less trudging through beforehand. Still, there's something to Rooney's writing and to her project that appeals and so I expect that I will reluctantly pick up her next book.
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LibraryThing member novelcommentary
So on the last day of 2021 I finished sally Rooney‘s new book called Beautiful World Where Are You? This is my second novel of hers and after Normal People was such a hit, I was anxious to delve into her obviously brilliant mind. I found the book a compulsive read, centering around two best
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friends in their 30s. Alice, like the author herself, is a famous novelist who suffers a bit from negative critics and Internet trawlers and apparently after a bit of a breakdown, goes off to live in a remoter section of Ireland, near the water. The novel begins with Alice meeting Felix on a tinder date that doesn’t go well at all. When she brings him back to show him the large house that she is currently living in, he wants to know what she does for a living. When she explains to him that she is a writer, a writer of novels, his response is a question: you make money doing that? In a letter to her friend, Eileen, Alice tells her "About ten days ago I went out on a date with someone who worked in a shipping warehouse and he absolutely despised me. To be fair to myself (I always am), I think I have by now forgotten how to conduct social intercourse." And so begins one of the two relationships that are described in detail throughout the novel. Felix is somewhat the most interesting character because he is not part of this literary world and he’s nowhere near the intellectual that Alison and her friend Eileen seem to be. The novel contains a series of letters between Alison and Eileen and in those letters there is discourse on things like beauty and art and climate change and motherhood. To some critics, these letters that are almost like mini essays might be a distraction, but I found them interesting to read even if they didn’t exactly carry the plot into any significant feature. The second relationship is between Alice’s friend Eileen and her longtime crush, an older man named Simon. Simon is a political consultant and more religious than the others. He is six years older than the two girls and so in that sense he seems to be a bit of an enigma to them. The novel builds up to the time when Eileen and Simon who have an on again off again relationship go to visit Alice at her new home at the shore and they meet Felix. Felix appears to be the bit of a catalyst because he’s innocent of their past lives and so asks important questions that give them all some uncomfortable thoughts to ponder.
Ms. Rooney has a detached observational narration that doesn't always use its omnipresence ability. Her dialog and manipulation of the intertwined relationships is well constructed. I look forward to her continued literary endeavors

About ten days ago I went out on a date with someone who worked in a shipping warehouse and he absolutely despised me. To be fair to myself (I always am), I think I have by now forgotten how to conduct social intercourse.

For me it feels like looking down and seeing for the first time that I’m standing on a minuscule ledge at a dizzying vertical height, and the only thing supporting my weight is the misery and degradation of almost everyone else on earth.

The present has become discontinuous. Each day, even each hour of each day, replaces and makes irrelevant the time before, and the events of our lives make sense only in relation to a perpetually updating timeline of news content.

People who intentionally become famous—I mean people who, after a little taste of fame, want more and more of it—are, and I honestly believe this, deeply psychologically ill. The fact that we are exposed to these people everywhere in our culture, as if they are not only normal but attractive and enviable, indicates the extent of our disfiguring social disease. There is something wrong with them, and when we look at them and learn from them, something goes wrong with us.

I think if every man who had ever behaved somewhat poorly in a sexual context dropped dead tomorrow, there would be like eleven men left alive.

People our age used to get married and have children and conduct love affairs, and now everyone is still single at thirty and lives with housemates they never see.

I know we agree that civilisation is presently in its decadent declining phase, and that lurid ugliness is the predominant visual feature of modern life.

I’m conscious of the extraordinary privilege of being allowed to make a living from something as definitionally useless as art.

That’s your problem, he said, you’re hard on yourself for not being more like Jesus. You should do what I do, just be a dickhead and enjoy your life.
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LibraryThing member Amzzz
Eileen, Alice, Felix and Simon. Sally Rooney does a good job writing relationships, but I wasn’t in any way as invested in this book or these characters compared to her previous two.
LibraryThing member jfaltz
too much navel gazing
LibraryThing member lauralkeet
Eileen and Alice are best friends whose careers have taken their lives in different directions. Alice is a successful novelist, and moved to a seaside town after struggling with mental health issues. Eileen works for a Dublin-based literary journal, earning barely enough to pay the rent. Alice has
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begun a relationship with Felix, whom she met on Tinder. Eileen’s lifelong friendship with Simon has developed into something more. The women keep up a brisk email correspondence, mostly focused on art, ideas, and their responsibility to make the world a better place. Despite being best friends, they are guarded when writing about their careers and relationships, as if each is afraid of being judged by the other.

This is a good setup, and all four characters are well-developed. And yet, I was never able to care deeply about them and tired of their angsty ruminations. Your mileage may vary.
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LibraryThing member boredgames
some gorgeous passages reminiscent of James Salter or Marilynne Robinson. Rooney is brilliantly talented, but i could not with the self indulgent millionaire novelist character or the non-dramas of these 4 hot white Irish people wittering on about whether they do or do not want to fuck each other.
LibraryThing member Iudita
I was baffled by this book up until the end. I couldn't understand at all what the author was attempting to do or why so many people have loved the book. But the last 10-15% of the book changed that somewhat. I couldn't appreciate the book until I read the ending and was able to look back on the
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story with a different view. I have a better sense of what the author was saying in this novel and also why it might really speak to certain people, but it remains a frustrating read for me.
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LibraryThing member BibliophageOnCoffee
Her best work so far.
LibraryThing member rmarcin
Two college friends write letters to each other telling about their lives and their dates. Alice is a successful novelist who meets Felix through a dating app, and they have a horrible first date, but later become lovers. Her friend, Eileen, has been in love with Simon since they were children, but
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won't admit it to herself, although they also become lovers.
This story follows the ups and downs of these two couples and their love lives.
This book got a lot of buzz, but I was disappointed.
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LibraryThing member Castlelass
Set in contemporary Ireland, we follow four people in their late twenties and early thirties as they experience life. As stated in the book summary, “Alice, Felix, Eileen, and Simon are still young—but life is catching up with them. They desire each other, they delude each other, they get
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together, they break apart.”

The writing is clever and contains insightful observations. I did not care for the numerous step-by-step sex scenes. The two female characters, Alice and Eileen, conduct lengthy email discussions, which do not come across as authentic. For me, the storytelling element is lacking here. Motivations are unclear. I do not have to like the characters (and this bunch is fairly unpleasant, especially Felix), but I need to care about what happens.

I have read Rooney’s two previous books. I very much enjoyed Normal People and did not care much for Conversations with Friends. This one is more like the latter than the former. I am sure many people will enjoy this book, especially if you enjoy contemporary fiction, but it is just not my personal taste. I listened to the audio book, beautifully read by Irish actress Aoife McMahon. Her reading kept me going when I was tempted to quit.
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LibraryThing member bookwyrmm
Very character-driven novel about two friends discovering themselves and how their friendship fits in
LibraryThing member camharlow2
Rooney’s third novel is sensitive, entertaining and moving and certainly lives up to the standards set by her previous two. At times you wonder whether some of the story is a reflection of Rooney’s own recent life, with the difficulties that Alice has in writing her third novel after two
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successes. The story follows two Irish women friends who are approaching 30 in around 2018 and continues over the next two years. It is told, sometimes as reportage as events unfold and sometimes in the text of e-mails between them which fills in details of their history and background over the past 10 years that they have known each other, or comments on their current relationships. During this time, they both have doubts and problems with their partners and Rooney’s writing deftly explores the ebbs and flows of their situations. Whether their relationships can last is in the balance until late in the novel and it is this that makes the book such a captivating read.
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British Book Award (Shortlist — 2022)
Irish Book Award (Nominee — Novel — 2021)
Australian Book Industry Awards (Shortlist — 2022)
BookTube Prize (Octofinalist — Fiction — 2022)


Original language

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