Love. Sex. Friendship. What is life without the chaos that these ingredients create? That’s the question Sally Rooney poses to us in her new novel, Beautiful World, Where Are You (Allen & Unwin, $29.99). And in her own distinct style, Rooney leaves it to us to decide whether the chaos is worth it in the end.

The novel follows long-time friends Alice and Eileen as they and their (for all intents and purposes) partners, Felix and Simon, attempt to navigate adulthood, only to find themselves constantly on the outside. Despite their differing experiences of religion, family, politics, wealth and fame, the four are united by one painful thread: they are broken and flawed and, well, human.

Here Rooney’s skill lies in her ability to peel back a character – sometimes gently, sometimes violently – to reveal humanity’s beautiful truths. And while it might not shake you to your emotional core à la Normal People, her masterful writing will force you to reflect on your own journey to adulthood. You’ll consider where you ended up and how got there; what you found and what you lost; and how you treated yourself and let other people treat you in the pursuit of what we all desire – love.

Criticisms have rolled in on this latest work from Rooney, but I’m a firm believer that comparison is the thief of joy. So, read Beautiful World if you miss running around inside Rooney’s head, or if you just want to feel something after the garbage-fire year we’ve had. But don’t read this if you can’t accept that it’s not the next book in a Rooney series, rather than its own distinct pleasure.

Gabrielle Read


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