Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon Van Booy

23rd June 2011

*I stood in line for Simon Van Booy to inscribe this book at BEA11. Pubbed by Harper Perennial, the book is out 07/05/11. Preorder here.

Everything Beautiful Began After.

After what? you may ask.

Rebecca, George, and Henry are all in Athens for different reasons, each isolated in his or her own way – Rebecca, lost and trying to sort herself out, claiming to be an artist but in truth, not working that much. George, the American, leaving behind boarding school and a lonely childhood. Henry, a young archaeologist, digging among the dead and trying to bury a family secret.

The trio drink too much and have intimacy problems, but in one another, they are no longer alone, and they traipse around like college kids on break, desperate to forge a life with meaning and some happiness.

But just when Rebecca, George, and Henry are discovering what life can be like with friendship and love and generosity, it is snatched away, cruelly reminding each of where he or she was before stumbling blindly into the others.

When I first opened the pages of Simon Van Booy’s debut novel, I was worried. I love beautiful writing, I do. However, I am also a fan of Hemingway and his “show, don’t tell” method. His succinct, often-spartan writing can affect me much more than voluminosity. The more I read, though, I thought how odd it was that a man with a writing style so different from Hemingway would remind me of the iconic writer so very much.

Hemingway has the ability to put me, dizzingly, into smoky bars, sitting with boozy boys who feel so much without any comprehension of what it is to feel anymore. Van Booy, too, made me ache with loneliness, the deep loneliness these characters have used as a shield and a comfort, finding moments of beauty but unable to fully appreciate it without someone else to confirm that life is, in fact, beautiful.

And then, oh the grief. I was mourning for and with these characters, the deep kind of mourning where you can’t cry, where tears have no place but where you are hyper alert, and Van Booy describes Henry, alone with his despair:

“Occasionally a dog wanders up the fountain, looks around for a moment, and then turns away without barking.

Newspapers blow across the cobbles like small snails.

Everything you do is a secret because nobody sees or knows.”

Right? Because no one knows what you’re going through, but at the same time everyone does because that kind of pain, at its base, is the same no matter who you are or where you come from.

So – After what? Just “after,” and there’s a good bit of it in this book because you may hurt, and you may rail against life moving on with your grief tucked into your front pocket, but you. are. human. And as Henry finds out, though our grief may be unoriginal, the way we deal with it is not, and

After every chapter of devastation, there is rebuilding.

It happens without thought.

It happens even when there is no guarantee it won’t happen again.

And that, my friends, is one damn bittersweet thought in a book that left me bereft and hopeful all at the same time.

jenn aka the picky girl

P.S. A couple of you expressed on Twitter that you plan to read this. PLEASE come back and share your thoughts. No one I know has read this, and it’s like torture. Ok, I exaggerate, but you get the picture.

  • I can’t believe I missed this one at BEA! Adding it to my very long book wish list…..

    • pickygirl

      Ohhh it was so good. I think, based on some of what I see you read, you would like it.

  • UM I AM SAD THAT THIS IS NOT LONGER! You lied to me Jenn! LIED!


    OK, so I started this early this morning, just the prologue, and I had this reaction: “When I first opened the pages of Simon Van Booyรขโ‚ฌโ„ขs debut novel, I was worried.” Since I haven’t gotten past the prologue yet, the feeling is more akin to “um, what have I gotten myself into oh crap oh crap. But now I have hope. I’m sure it’ll all be ok in the end. And if it isn’t, I have you to blame ๐Ÿ˜€ ๐Ÿ˜€ ๐Ÿ˜€

    • pickygirl

      You are hilarious! Sorry to disappoint. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Yep – the beginning did make me feel like I was in over my head, and I had to start it again. But the “oh crap oh crap, what have I gotten myself into” should should go away. I hope you enjoy it. Maybe just read a bit at a time.

  • I will be reading some Simon Van Booy pretty soon, his first collection “The Secret Lives of People in Love”, but I also have a copy of this one (I got an ARC from NetGalley), so if all goes well, I’ll read it too! I love Van Booy just on the basis of the title of his collections, so I hope his stories live up to their names. They just seem so gorgeous!

    • pickygirl

      Now I really want to read that one, Steph. Can’t wait to see what you think of it as I have always enjoyed short stories. And yes, I thought the title was great as well.

      There’s even sort of a Gatsby feel to it. Really interesting from a structural/narrative standpoint, too.

  • Being a fan of almost all things Hemingway, it seems to me that I need to stop eyeing this one and just go get it. Gawd…the one sentence you shared about the dog makes my heart hurt.

    • pickygirl

      Oh my gosh – yes. It broke me a little because I know I have felt like that. Not often, thankfully, but I have. And he does an amazing job of making you not just understand that, but feel it, too.

  • Soo thrilled you loved this — I’m reviewing it 7/28 and cannot, cannot wait. It seems delicious!

    • pickygirl

      So so completely delicious. It’s driving me crazy that there are no other reviews up. I want to talk about it NOW! Guess I can wait a month… ๐Ÿ™‚

  • i have this one to read and am really looking forward to it, torture or not. ๐Ÿ™‚ i’ll try to remember to come back and share my thoughts then.

    • pickygirl

      I hope you do! Or just post about it, and I’ll see it.

  • Hi, I found your review on a Google search of this book, because I’m currently writing a review for it at thebookbook.blogspot.com (which will be up on 7/5). I just wanted to say that I was surprised by how much I ended up LOVING this book! Once I started, I couldn’t put it down. And I wish it was getting more attention because it really is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year.

    • pickygirl

      Yes – it was slow to start for me, but I absolutely loved it. The plane rides and being in the air and in airports just killed me. Glad you enjoyed it so much!

  • I was going to wait until next week to read it, but you’re not the only one I’ve seen who is reading it. I guess I’m going to have to jump off the bridge. Join the in-crowd. I’ll pick it up on Thursday, probably. Can’t wait!