Have you ever found yourself contemplating the meaning of life while dealing with the mundanity of daily existence?
This novel by Sally Rooney follows the lives of two young friends as they grapple with the complexities of love, friendship, and the societal pressures that come with growing up. Through their interactions and miscommunications, the characters strive to find beauty in a world that seems to be falling apart.
In this discussion guide, we’ll have a look at some book club questions for Beautiful World Where Are You and why it’s a must-read for anyone looking for a poignant commentary on how fame and isolation can be a blessing but a curse in disguise as well.
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Beautiful World Where Are You Book Club Questions For Discussion
- The book follows an alternating narrative between Alice and Eileen that gives the reader a deeper understanding of both characters and their inner lives and struggles.
Why do you think Sally Rooney adopted such a kind of narrative in this novel? Also, do you think these letters/emails represent a pen pal type of relationship between the two?
- Alice’s mental health crisis and her time in psychiatric care serve as a catalyst for her character development throughout the novel. It allows the reader to see a more vulnerable and human side to Alice, who is initially portrayed as a wealthy and successful novelist. Do you think this novel successfully highlights the stigma and misconceptions surrounding mental illness? Also, Alice seeking to write letters to Eileen in such times of crisis shows that there is nothing wrong with asking for help.
Do you agree?
- Felix’s character serves as a foil to Alice’s privileged and intellectual lifestyle. His down-to-earth personality and experiences with depression provide a contrast to Alice’s more cerebral struggles.
What are some traits that you liked about Felix and what are some that you didn’t?
- The theme of historical consciousness is prevalent throughout the novel, particularly in Eileen’s letters to Alice. She expresses deep concern about the loss of historical identity in modern society and the failure to learn from past mistakes. This theme is also explored through Alice’s musings on environmentalism and the impact of consumerism on society.
- The sexual tension and encounters between Eileen and Simon serve to highlight Eileen’s feelings of loneliness and the challenges of finding meaningful relationships in modern society. It also explores the complexities of friendship and the blurred lines between platonic and romantic relationships.
Do you agree?
- Alice grew up in a poor, unstable home, and after college, she worked in cafes until her first manuscript received a generous offer. Her past experiences have influenced her present struggles with reconciling her public image and private personhood.
Do you think this was the main reason behind her declining mental health?
- The novel delves into the intricacies and complexities of romantic relationships. Alice and Felix’s relationship is sexual but undefined, and they struggle to communicate their feelings to each other. Eileen sleeps with Simon and wants to hear him say he loves her, but he remains evasive.
Do you think Rooney has been successful in portraying the difficulties of navigating romantic relationships in this novel?
- Alice much prefers to intellectualize her feelings rather than endure the lived experience. In college, Eileen said Alice had a very loud voice, dressed in ill-fitting second-hand clothes and seemed to find everything hilarious. This memory of college-age Alice contrasts with the present character as a successful novelist, where Alice comes across as brusque, intimidating, and argumentative.
Do you think people change with success just the way Alice did?
- The literary festival in Rome serves as a backdrop for the characters’ personal struggles and their relationships with one another. It is a place where they can explore their intellectual and creative pursuits, but it also exposes their vulnerabilities and insecurities. The festival brings Alice and Felix together, and their interactions set the stage for their complicated and ambiguous relationship. It also introduces the theme of the decline of aesthetics and the arts, which is a recurring motif throughout the story.
- Alice feels that reading fiction is almost like a religious experience involving selfless love. She ruminates on the nature of reading fiction in her letter to Eileen and compares it to the way that religious believers approach their faith with an attitude of selfless love.
What’s your take on this? Also, does this act of reading a particular genre of books in order to transcend you to a deeper experience with humanity appeal to you?
- Let’s discuss the ending. Over a year after the summer visit, Alice and Eileen are amidst the COVID pandemic. Alice shares that her mental health is still worn thin, but she’s grateful for her life and might believe in God. Eileen, on the other hand, is expecting a baby with Simon and feels that the world is once again alive with possibilities. Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, both Alice and Eileen seem to be finding hope and resilience in their respective situations.
Did you like this ending or you wanted Alice to finally recover from her mental health debacles in the end?
- An epistolary novel is a novel written as a series of letters, and Beautiful World, Where Are You partly follows this format, with much of the story being told through letters exchanged between characters. This format allows for a more intimate and personal portrayal of the characters, as the letters provide insights into their thoughts, feelings, and perspectives that might not be revealed through more traditional narration.
What’s your take on this format and what are some other books that you have read that follows this format?
If you liked this set of book club questions, here are some other options for you to explore.
Go Set a Watchman: In Harper Lee’s long-awaited sequel to “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a grown-up Scout returns to her Alabama hometown and confronts unsettling truths about her family and community. Set against the backdrop of civil rights tensions, this poignant novel explores the painful transition from innocence to awareness.
Start With Why: Discover the key to exceptional leadership and inspiring success. Simon Sinek’s groundbreaking book reveals how great leaders think, act, and communicate differently, showing you how to start with WHY and make a lasting impact on those around you.
The Secret History: In the hallowed halls of an elite New England college, a brilliant professor inspires an eclectic group to transcend the ordinary. Yet as they embrace unorthodox ideas, their journey takes a dark turn, unraveling a web of obsession, deceit, and the relentless pull of evil.
The Cloisters: In the mystical depths of The Cloisters, Ann Stilwell unravels the secrets of a lost tarot deck. As power-hungry researchers collide, she must navigate toxic friendships and dangerous games, deciding if she can defy fate and forge her own path. A gripping tale of obsession and ambition.
November 9: Fallon and Ben’s fateful encounter sparks a whirlwind romance before she leaves town. Each year they reunite, but doubts arise—is their love real or just part of Ben’s novel? Colleen Hoover weaves an unforgettable tale of love and heartbreak in this bestselling masterpiece.