Throw away the junk mail in Sally Rooney’s ‘Beautiful World, Where Are You’

Sally Rooney’s use of emails in “Beautiful World, Where Are You” distracts from her lifelike dialogue, according to book columnist Katie Hanson SC ’25. (Anna Choi • The Student Life)

Say Sally Rooney’s name around any Dr. Martens-wearing, overall-clad college student and you’re likely to get a positive response. The millennial Irish author is well-known for her two previous books, “Normal People” and “Conversations with Friends,” the first already translated into a popular Hulu series and the second in production.

Already well-liked, her books became even more popular this summer on BookTok, a subsection of TikTok where creators review and share books. Creators and commenters alike raved about her hyper realistic dialogue, an aspect so ingrained in Rooney’s writing style that she doesn’t even bother to include quotations.

Like her past two works, Rooney’s newest release, “Beautiful World, Where Are You,” centers on the depressed white woman trope. It’s not remarkable in any sense and could certainly benefit from being more inclusive and creative. Yet, among a variety of audiences, it makes for a good beach read. 

None of Rooney’s plots are thrilling, but that’s where the appeal lies. In the mundane, stagnant storyline, her excellent characterization and heavy dialogue establishes a feeling of extreme reality and sometimes relatability. 

I think of Rooney as one of my favorite authors for this reason. When I heard of her upcoming release, I was thrilled. One of my favorite authors releasing a new novel while I was in a pandemic-induced reading hibernation? “Finally,” I thought.

It’s embarrassing to admit, but the day I received the new book, I did a little more than a brisk walk to the mailroom. I ripped open the packaging, flipping through the pages on the way back to my dorm. 

But by dinner, I was feeling underwhelmed and disappointed. That same strong characterization and strikingly lifelike dialogue was there, but it was diluted. Between those vivid chapters were long-form, stream of consciousness style emails between the two main characters.

I could understand why Rooney would do this: to disrupt the norm, experiment, evolve. But why fix something that isn’t broken? Her powerful dialogue was her best skill, her sharpest knife, piercing the bubble of fiction. Why would she contradict that? It felt like the sequel to a well-liked movie where the producers included random ideas from the initial brainstorming session, disregarding the appeal of the first movie that put them in the position to make another.

The extended dialogue of the emails was scattered, with answers to a character’s question given two chapters later. Not only had I forgotten the question posed by the time I read the response email, but the pages were packed with irrelevant, distracting tangents. 

Rooney used to reign over the perfect beach, light-read genre, but reading this book required an almost detective-like analysis to draw any conclusions from the emails. Unpacking the motives of characters through non-revealing dialogue has been a consistent draw for a prominent amount of Rooney’s audience. Yet, between the pages and pages of emails, there was too much to draw from. Full of contradictions and completely unprompted thoughts, the emails felt more like testimonies from Rooney, rather than the characters. 

Outside the contents of the emails, the bare bones of its foundation were off-putting. A book full of emails felt gimmicky, something I might expect out of a cheesy romcom young adult book. Sure, Rooney deserves to have some form of artistic license, especially with her bestsellers to back it up, but she completely disregarded the time-honored, cardinal rule of creative writing — show, don’t tell.

I acknowledge my critiques read as traditionalist and conservative, but seeing the emails was a facepalm, shake-the-book moment. Still, “Beautiful World, Where Are You” is full of potential. The effortless dialogue and authentic characterization from her previous books are present, but their effects are harshly hindered by abrupt transitions to the lengthy emails. So Sally, if you’re reading this (I’m just manifesting here), I love your books — just please throw out the godforsaken emails.

Katie Hanson SC ’25 is from Potomac, MD. She loves sewing, rollerblading and ridiculous reality TV shows. 

Facebook Comments