29 September 2021, The Tablet

Longing for something lost

Longing for something lost

Beautiful World, Where Are You
(FABER & FABER, 352 PP, £16.99)
Tablet bookshop price £15.29 • tel 020 7799 4064

Why is there no question mark in the title? You may well ask. It will be one of the many questions you ask about this novel. Sally Rooney (pictured) had a meteoric rise to fame. Her crackling, spot-on dialogue was peerless. Conversations with Friends established her reputation as a spokesperson for the angst-ridden nearly-thirties. Normal People sold zillions, and even more after the TV series, shown in lockdown. Intimacy – or the lack of it, amongst coming-of-age Irish young people – was her theme.

Now comes her difficult third. In the acknowledgements, she pays tribute to someone who “led me to find a much needed new direction”. This is an attempt at a “state of the nation” book – perhaps even a “state of the world” one. It’s ambitious, in its attempt to grapple with more than just sexual initiation and rites of passage. Rooney herself is entitled now, but she’s not happy about her world. As a result, I don’t think I’ve come across such a sad, lonely book, full of longing for something lost.

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