By Molly Openshaw
On the 7th September, Sally Rooney released her third and arguably most anticipated novel yet. After the release of Normal People, which was subsequently adapted into a BBC Television series, Rooney received a multitude of awards and became a household name.
Beautiful World, Where Are You? (BWWAY) follows author Alice and her university friend Eileen. Both women are facing the aftermath of turning thirty and face career burnouts, relationship issues and struggles with mental health. After Alice soars to fame, something every author aspires for, she soon realises that writing a novel is a completely different task once you are aware of the readership.
The novel mirrors the four person friendship dynamic as Conversations with Friends. Eileen reminisces in her youth as she continues to pine over her childhood friend, Simon, and Alice explores modern relationships after a debacle of a tinder date turns into a trip to Rome. The four friends epitomise friendship in their thirties in a mosaic of mundane conversations, email correspondence and dinner parties.
We can draw comparisons between Rooney and the character Alice, especially due to their similarities of reaching fame at an accelerated pace. Rooney breaks the fourth wall here in a form of metafiction as Alice seems to be a voice for Rooney: she struggles mentally from the pressure of her anticipated next book, does not see herself as worthy of all of the attention and would quite like to go back to being an unknown author again.
Rooney’s own writing style encourages this metafiction with this focus on the mundane, almost agentic actions enabling you to forget that there is a page between you and the characters. It feels as though the book is a direct portal into these characters’ lives.
This sense of realism is not new to Rooney’s work, with many scholars and critics picking up on her style in Normal People. Jane Hu described Rooney’s work as something that “themizes the parochialism of traditional British literary realism”, highlighting how her focus on the mundane and almost boring details, enables for such a powerful characterisation and a true story the everyday person can relate to. This seems reminiscent of the ideas presented in Ian Watt’s The Rise of The Novel. Watt explains that “if the novel were realistic merely because it saw life from the seamy side it would only be an inverted romance; but in fact it surely attempts to portray all the varieties of human experience”. That is not to say that Rooney’s work isn’t gritty, it can be pretty grim, speaking of heartache, death and aimlessness, but it is this kaleidoscopic human depiction in her work that sets her apart from other novelists.
Realism and marxism are discussed in conjunction throughout BWWAY, with Alice and Eileen using the format of email to discuss capitalist society and this almost inevitability of waste culture. Being characterised through the medium of email epitomises the throw away culture that Rooney is criticising, this mammoth black hole of information that we are all constantly adding to.
They discuss this waste culture in relation to the arts, with the extreme amount of content being produced, the present has become “discontinuous”, rendering content prior irrelevant, content is only relevant in relation to a “perpetually updating timeline of content”. Here we can see how BWWAY is a depiction of how marxism can be approached in a modern setting and a realist perception of authorship.