Learn the complexities of life and religion through writing



30-year-old Irish author Sally Rooney is one of the best-known names in contemporary literary fiction, following the resounding success of her novels Conversations with friends (2017) and Normal people (2018). Both contain a compelling mix of quick dialogues, eroticism, and politico-philosophical reflections.

Rooney applied the same formula in his highly anticipated new novel Beautiful world, Where are you, which is just as compelling as his previous work, but much more frustrating.

It’s never a good idea to assume that a novel is autobiographical, but it’s hard not to see Beautiful worldthe protagonist of, Alice Kelleher, replacing Rooney. She is the same age, wrote two bestselling novels and spent a year in New York City (where Rooney was a member of the New York Public Library in 2019) before returning to Ireland to recover from the whirlwind of fame. Now settled in a large house by the sea that she only leaves for literary events abroad, she is exhausted, cynical and lonely. Apparently Alice was hospitalized with some sort of nervous breakdown.

Structurally, the novel alternates between emails between Alice and her best friend, Eileen, whose voices sound the same, and scenes about them narrated in the third person. In the emails, they criticize the social and environmental ravages caused by our consumerist culture, naively deplore the fall of the USSR, debate the merits of aesthetics, and talk about their love lives. While Alice rose to literary stardom, Eileen was an editor at a literary journal in Dublin and published only one essay. Alice is hyper aware of her wealth and privileges, yet she spends most of her emails complaining.

Ridiculously, she complains about “the current system of literary production”, whatever it is, and the authors she has met, concluding that “they don’t know anything about real life” as if it were true. She complains about the “problem of the contemporary Euro-American novel” as if such a problem exists, saying that it “rests for its structural integrity on the suppression of the lived realities of most human beings on earth”. That is, billions of people exploited by rapacious capitalism live in desperate poverty, and the writers of “candles” have the nerve to write about sex and friendship.

Alice admits her own work is “the worst culprit in this regard”, finds it “morally and politically worthless”, and feels guilty for not writing more political novels. But she seems unaware that, as Orhan Pamuk writes in The Naïve and the Sentimental Novelist, “The art of the novel becomes political not when the author expresses political opinions, but when we make an effort to understand someone. who is different from us in terms of cultures, class and gender. It means feeling compassion before making an ethical, cultural or political judgment. “

Equally frustrating are Alice and Eileen’s romantic relationships, which are utterly pathetic. In the first chapter, Alice begins dating Felix, a Philistine who works in a warehouse and is a complete jerk. At one point, he ghosts her after she takes him to Rome. In another, he cancels his dinner plans because he wants to hang out with guys after work, gets screwed completely in clubs, texts him for sex after midnight, slips on Tinder as he heads out. to her house, then belittles her when she’s nice to him. Their conversations are atrocious; Felix’s idiocy is unbearable, and Alice’s polite masochistic deference is infuriating.

Eileen’s interest, Simon, is the opposite of the moron specter: he has known Eileen since they were young, is six years older, works in politics, is Catholic, and very handsome. His only flaw seems to be that he dates women in his early twenties.

Simon’s Catholicism defines his character, but it also accentuates a neglected and old-fashioned aspect of Rooney’s work: his attraction to religion. She made a move toward religion in Conversations with Friends, but she engages it more deliberately in Beautiful World, in which Felix mocks Simon’s faith, Eileen skeptically accompanies him to mass, and Alice confesses that ‘she is “fascinated and touched by the” personality “of Jesus, in a rather sentimental way, no doubt even tearful. “Could it be that easy?” ” She wonders. “We just have to cry and bow down and God forgive everything?” She admits that maybe it isn’t, that “maybe crying and bowing down with real sincerity is the hardest thing we can ever learn to do.” She knows she can never do it.

It is unfortunate that for Rooney’s Irish figures religion is included within the narrow confines of Catholicism. Either you are part of the Church or you are an atheist. Religion is a matter of faith, not of action. Yet in Judaism and Buddhism it doesn’t matter what you believe. It is important what you do. And the best thing you can do for the world is to purify your own mind, through meditation. Rooney seems to ignore this, and because his protagonists cannot believe, they have no spiritual practice – let alone get involved in activism. They yearn for spiritual depth, but they lead a life of superficiality, emptiness and futility. In other words, while Alice and Eileen are smart, they are anything but wise.

Of course this is unfair, I would expect them to be. After all, they are only 30 years old. And the fact that I’m so frustrated with them only shows that Rooney has written another gripping novel. Beautiful world, Where are youYou confronted me with my own judgment and challenged me to develop compassion for people other than me. And it is a political act. ??

The writer teaches writing at Harvard University. His work appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The American Scholar and many other publications. He is currently working on a book on anti-Semitism.



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