By the Book - Literary Life Lessons

The Sound of Breaking Glass – Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney

Finding your true self is never easy - especially when you're reading Sally Rooney.

Who are we? How do others see us? Which parts of ourselves do we want to be on display? Are we ever truly connected to the world? These are just a couple of questions that are raised in Sally Rooney’s novel Beautiful World, Where Are You, which coincide exactly with similar questions I occasionally ask myself. Want to know whether there are any answers? Read on!

Beautiful World, Where Are You is about Alice, a bestselling novelist, and her best friend Eileen, a journalist, and the men they are seeing but not quite committing to. All of them are struggling with different things, and not quite sure whether they’re satisfied with the way their lives have turned out. This novel is about what is means to be successful, both personally and professionally, and how we are all looking for beauty and meaning in our lives.

(Note to self: While reading Beautiful World, Where Are You, I kept reminding myself that Sally Rooney is almost exactly as old as I am. Seeing as her characters are usually the same age as she is while writing her novels, I am also just as old as her characters. It should, therefore, not come as too big a surprise that I can always very much relate to them. While reading Conversations With Friends, for instance, I wondered about what my friends mean to me and what I would be without them, and whether I identify myself through the people close to me. There’s something about her books that just clicks with me. This time, I couldn’t stop thinking about the way I present myself to the world, and how others might perceive me.)

One of the main themes in Beautiful World, Where Are You is plastic, an artificial substance. In the novel, Alice and Eileen, who claim to be best friends, don’t meet each other until the very end. Instead, they write each other emails in between chapters, contemplating the nature of things and philosophizing about how everything is essentially fake, just like plastic – including themselves.

(Note to self: While reading, I kept asking myself whether I was fake, too. I thought about the times I feel like I can truly be myself, and the times where I feel like I’m showing only a particular side of me. It then dawned on me that I worry about the way others perceive me far too often. Instead of just being myself, I have several personae to choose from. I can be enthusiastic, I can be attentive, I can be funny, I can be serious – and sometimes I can be all of these at the same time. I always pick one (or several) depending on the person I’m with, and depending on what I think they think of me, and on how much I want to impress them. However, I still always worry that people might not like or appreciate me.)

The close Alice and Eileen get to their boyfriends, the more cracks appear in the surface. Somehow, both women are reluctant to show their inner selves to their lovers, and instead of trying to bond with them, they push them away. In their letters, Alice and Eileen claim that it only their friendship is real, but their actions show the complete opposite.

(Note to self: Am I ever lying to myself? Am I ever lying to my boyfriend, or to my friends? Why would I lie? Is there some part of me that I keep hidden – and is that part of me real? And, most importantly, if I’m so adept at adapting to whatever social circle I’m in, why am I still so insecure?)

At the very end, when all four of them finally meet up, a glass of wine breaks, sending shards in every direction. This scene, with the glass, contrary to the plastic cups that are used everywhere else in the novel, represents how somehow the truth is finally out there, and it’s broken into tiny little particles. Turns out, the truth is a mess.

(Note to self: Here’s something interesting that happened to me last week. Somehow, while talking to someone I organise a huge event with, I realised that other people might not show their true selves to me. They might also have a bunch of personalities they can choose from, and they might want to impress me, too. And with that thought came the realisation that, apparently, some people might look up at me, and my presence might make them feel insecure. It might sound weird, but I had never looked at myself in that way before. It was like I had spilled a cocktail glass (for I prefer cocktails over wine, and they look prettier on pictures), and it exploded on the floor and I wouldn’t know where to begin picking up the pieces.)

I finished Beautiful World, Where Are You a couple of days ago, long before my own epiphany, but somehow I feel they’re all connected.

(Note to self: Did this all really happen? Am I just trying to attach symbolic value to reading a book? Am I overstating the power of literature? Or am I just pretending anything happened at all?)

What did you think of Beautiful World, Where Are You? Have you ever read anything by Sally Rooney? Which books really resonate with you? Have you ever been jealous of an author because they were the same age as you but they have achieved so much more than you? Are you ever jealous at all? Do you ever pretend to be someone else? Please let me know in the comments. Also, don’t forget to follow me for more book-related posts!

This isn’t a real cocktail. Nor did I break the glass. Spilling a glorious drink and breaking a glass seemed like such a waste.

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