Thursday, September 16, 2021

Beautiful World, Where Are You, by Sally Rooney: Thank You, Next

A modest proposal: Sally Rooney is to a certain sect of readers what David Foster Wallace and Jonathan Franzen are to middle-aged white dudes (like me). That's to say, Rooney fans are ride or die, and god help you if you sling a wayward negative comment her way. Sally Rooney is a saint!

Anyway, so I'm about to duck. Here comes a rare negative review at The New Dork Review of Books. And believe me, I fully understand the choppy waters I'm wading into here.

Sally Rooney's latest novel, Beautiful World, Where Are You, about four unlikeable navel-gazers, is...just, oh god, I don't know, unlikeable

So the novel is about the worries of youth. Four characters — two couples, basically – sit around and argue and complain and worry about each other and have sex and also try to puzzle out REALLY IMPORTANT THINGS. That's it. That's the story. My friend Matthew, who is a wunderkind with words, called this novel a "masterpiece in navel-gazing" and "akin to a ballad amidst bangers" (read his whole review for the context on that last bit, which is brilliant).

I felt like this entire novel was like sitting at a bar listening to the most unlikable people talk about things that don't matter. Nothing about this novel felt authentic — from what the characters say, to their long-winded emails to each other about climate change, existential dread, beauty, and art, to how they actually treat each other. Everything was just a bit off. 

Far be it from me to decry a novel because of unlikeable characters. Yes, these people are all intensely unlikeable. But that's only 5 percent of why this novel fell flat. Between bad dialogue, a lack of anything remotely interesting happening, and people that don't act, talk, or interact the way you'd expect normal people to, I couldn't wait for this to be over. 

Thankfully, it does read quickly. Look, I know Rooney is an immensely talented writer. She does a lot with very few words, and that's impressive. I actually really enjoyed her last novel, Normal People, so I'm not just hatcheting here to be hateful or contrarian. I genuinely didn't like this book. I joked on Goodreads that this novel should be titled: Sex and Email: But Nothing Happens. But lots of people will like it, and I hope you're one of them.


  1. Yeah Rooney's twee observations make me want to barf. So pretentious.

  2. Yes! I don't know why more readers haven't had this reaction. Maybe its because their standards have been systematically lowered through years believing that reading texts and emails is "reading".

    But beyond this, her writing is simply poor. Her sentence construction feels amateurish, and her dialogue is stilted and downright laughable in places.

    There are so many great books being published right now. Why read this?