Critics applaud Rooney's 'beautiful' new novel

Critics applaud Rooney's 'beautiful' new novel

Critics have dubbed Sally Rooney’s third book, Beautiful World, Where Are You (Faber), a “tour de force” with one calling it the author’s best novel.

The long-awaited novel is publishing on 7th September, a day that will see a rare appearance from Rooney at the Southbank Centre, discussing her novel with fellow author Emma Dabiri. The campaign will feature special openings at bookshops, bucket hats, a pop-up in Shoreditch and a private reading at Waterstones flagship store in London’s Piccadilly. Pre-orders for the novel topped Bookshop.org’s August chart, which records the books that earned the most money for independent bookshops on the platform.

A host of glowing reviews have also been accompanied by some more critical perspectives. James Marriott at the Times described it as a “beautiful and serious new novel... Beautiful World, Where Are You operates on the reader with a kind of rebuking seriousness: are you living properly? Do you care deeply enough about the most important things? The book moved me to tears more than once." 

He added: "For all its structural oddness, Beautiful World, Where Are You is Rooney’s best novel.”

The Guardian's Anne Enright commented on Rooney’s “impeccable” sentences and “thoughtful, often sweet-minded and always rigorous” tone. “Fans of Rooney’s previous work will relish the ache and uncertainty of her characters’ coming of age, her way with emotional difficulty and her brilliance in showing the barriers we put between ourselves and the love of others. The last third of Beautiful World, Where Are You, when the four characters meet and connect, is a tour de force. The dialogue never falters, and the prose burns up the page,” she wrote.

Writing for the Financial Times, author Diana Evans said: "I think overall this is Rooney’s strongest writing thus far, bathed in a soft white light. There is a touching honesty and truthfulness in these pages, along with a quiet brilliance, and that seems something for art to offer amid the anguished state of the world: to show how we live, to ask how we can live.”

However, Susannah Goldsbrough at theTelegraph awarded the book three out of five stars, commenting on the structure of the novel, which deploys the use of emails between two of the main characters. She said: “In reality, the emails are like a spine: structurally integral but knobbly and rigid. Their content slips between politics and dense reams of fact, so that they end up reading more like Wikipedia entries than fiction."

She said: "It isn't that they are uninteresting—very few things that Rooney thinks or writes are. The problem is that they bear only tenuous relation to the business of the novel. It's all the more frustrating because jammed between the emails is some of Rooney's most beautiful writing.”

The Independent’s Martin Chilton also awarded the book three stars. He said: “It’s the occasional narrator who jokes about how gushing reviews of Alice’s first two books were followed by 'negative pieces reacting to the fawning positivity of the initial coverage'. There’s no disarming pre-emptive strike needed here, though, because Beautiful World, Where Are You is a stimulating, enjoyable read. My main problem was that aside from rooting for the insecure, hypersensitive Eileen, I could not find it in my heart to care in the least about Alice, Felix or whiny Simon.”

Many critics have also read into the use of Alice — a 29-year-old successful author chafing at her fame — as a “obvious avatar for Rooney”. The New York Times’ John Williams, wrote: “The discussion around her can feel so extraliterary that it’s easy to lose sight of what she does well on the page, which is quite a bit. Rooney’s people are reflective of their time and milieu — like most convincing characters."

The Evening Standard also aligned Rooney with Alice, calling it "an anguished cry against the commercially powerful and psychologically challenging situation this globally feted author now finds herself in”.