Beautiful World, Where Are You Summary

Beautiful World, Where Are You is a novel by Sally Rooney centered on four young Irish people: Alice, Eileen, Felix, and Simon.

  • Following a nervous breakdown, successful writer Alice Kelleher moves to a small coastal town, where she meets and begins a relationship with Felix.
  • Alice and her college friend Eileen communicate via email, discussing their lives and the state of the world, which they feel is on the verge of collapse.
  • Eileen enters into a romantic relationship with her childhood friend Simon, with whom she is expecting a child by the end of the novel.

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Last Updated on March 14, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 737

Alice Kelleher, a successful writer, has moved to a small town or village on the Atlantic coast of Ireland, following a nervous breakdown in New York. She is living there alone in a large house called the rectory when she meets Felix on a dating site. He is a local...

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Alice Kelleher, a successful writer, has moved to a small town or village on the Atlantic coast of Ireland, following a nervous breakdown in New York. She is living there alone in a large house called the rectory when she meets Felix on a dating site. He is a local man who works in a warehouse, and after an unpromising start, the two of them forge an uneasy friendship and agree to go on a trip to Rome together.

Alice’s story is intertwined with that of her college friend Eileen, who lives in Dublin. Chapters of third-person narrative about each woman alternate with chapters consisting of email messages from one to the other. The messages link their personal lives to wider global and philosophical issues, often dwelling on the pettiness of the concerns that preoccupy them both from day to day in the face of imminent civilizational collapse. Eileen works for a small literary magazine and, as the story opens, is single and restless. Her sister, Lola, is about to get married, and Eileen feels she has wasted her life. She finds herself falling in love with her childhood friend Simon, a deeply religious and principled man who works as a political adviser.

In Rome, Alice sees violent pornography on Felix’s cell phone and is initially shocked, but this provides an opening for them both to talk about things they are ashamed of having done. They become closer after this and begin a sexual relationship. However, when they return to Ireland, Felix ignores Alice most of the time, only texting her late at night when he wants to have sex. One night he cruelly tells her that, though he knows she loves him, he does not love her. Nobody does, he tells her, and she barely seems to have any friends, since even Eileen, of whom she often speaks, never comes to visit her.

In Dublin, Eileen finds herself becoming more deeply attached to Simon as she begins a sexual relationship with him. She confesses to him that she enjoys it when he tells her what to do and thinks of him as a somewhat paternal figure, though he is exceptionally mild-mannered and unthreatening. However, Eileen knows that Simon is seeing someone else, a younger woman called Caroline, and becomes passionately jealous. Simon tells her that he will end his relationship with Caroline if Eileen wants him to, but she cannot bring herself to ask him to do this. However, their relationship takes on new life when their eyes meet at Lola’s wedding, and they both remember how much they have meant to each other over many years.

After the wedding, Eileen and Simon both go to stay with Alice at the rectory, where they meet Felix. While they are drinking at a bar one evening, Felix asks Simon if he is single, and Simon says he is, revealing that he has broken up with Caroline. That night, Simon visits Eileen in her room, and they have sex. The next day, however, Eileen is clearly upset, and Simon is detached and withdrawn. They have decided to be friends, an arrangement which does not seem to suit either of them, particularly Eileen, who suggested it.

In the evening, Felix takes Alice, Eileen, and Simon to his friend Danielle’s birthday party. At the end of the evening, the people at the party sing songs, and Alice is moved to tears by Felix’s singing. When they return home, Alice and Eileen have an argument, and Eileen goes upstairs to her bedroom. Felix comforts Alice and finally tells her that he loves her. Meanwhile, upstairs, Simon comforts Eileen, telling her that he wants to be with her if she will give him the chance. Alice and Eileen meet on the stairs and are reconciled.

The novel ends with two email messages written eighteen months later. Alice writes to Eileen, enclosing her comments on an essay Eileen has written and revealing that she and Felix are still together and in a stable relationship. Eileen replies, telling Alice that she is pregnant. She and Simon are both very happy that they will soon become parents, though Eileen worries about both the state of the world and her own fitness for this role. She had never envisaged herself living such a normal life, one which probably looks dull when viewed from outside but in which she is very happy.

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