*** DEBUG END ***

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney

26 November 2021

Catherine Pepinster on a novelist who speaks for a new generation

IT HAS taken just four years for Sally Rooney to become established as the voice of a generation: the novelist who lifts the lid on the lives and loves of young Ireland. Rooney’s previous novels feature people who party hard, engage frequently in sex that seems little more than a form of exercise, and have sloughed off the old Ireland of mass-going, frequent confession, and priestly power.

So, when Alice, one of the four lead characters of Rooney’s latest volume, Beautiful World, Where Are You, describes her friend Eileen, an editorial assistant at a literary magazine, and Simon, a political adviser, to Felix, a warehouse assistant whom she has hooked up with in a seaside town, Felix’s incredulity that Simon is religious is what the reader would expect. “He’s weird in the head or something, is he?” Felix asks.

But religion is not an amusing eccentricity for Rooney. In Beautiful World, Where Are You — named after a line from Schiller — there are the sexual liaisons that are staples of her fiction, but these are older, more troubled characters, heading towards their thirties and watching their peers settle down. Alice — a Rooney-like, highly successful novelist — does not like becoming a celebrity; Eileen feels stuck after years in the same job; Felix loathes his. But Simon heads off to mass on a Sunday morning and kneels in prayer at night, and Eileen and Alice are intrigued.

Rooney retains her wit, freshness, and style here, as well as her usual sexual explicitness, but her narration, and the lengthy email exchanges between Alice and Eileen, offer a new philosophical and sometimes theological approach to life, materialism, and the importance of beauty, as a possible route to God.

But it’s not so much the old version of Christianity, heavy with guilt, which appeals to Rooney and her thirty-somethings, but its thankfulness to God. The clerics who despair over Irish religious decline should take note.

Catherine Pepinster is a former editor of The Tablet. Her latest book is Martyrdom (SPCK, 2020).


Beautiful World, Where Are You
Sally Rooney
Faber & Faber £16.99
Church Times Bookshop £15.29

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events

24 May 2022
Disability and Church: Intersectionality
A joint webinar from HeartEdge and Church Times.

2 July 2022
Bringing Down the Mighty: Church, Theology and Structural Injustice
With Anthony Reddie, Azariah France-Williams, Mariama Ifode-Blease, Luke Larner, Will Moore, Stewart Rapley and Victoria Turner.

More events

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)