Three lost souls meet in Athens, where their lives are destined to change forever. Rebecca is a young French painter, fleeing two years as a stewardess with Air France and a life bereft of personality and understanding. While trying to work out who she is, she stumbles upon two men; her first friend in Athens is George, a lonely American Ivy League educated linguist in love with ancient languages, alcohol, and Rebecca herself. But then she stumbles upon Henry Bliss, a Welsh archaeologist, who she suspects can show her not only the secrets of the ancient city she lives in but of her own heart, even though he’s hiding his own secrets from the distant past. Each of them is lost in some way; each of their relationships defines who they are and what they will become in the years ahead.
I’ve heard so very many amazing things about Simon Van Booy that it was only a matter of time before I actually read one of his books. He’s earned acclaim as a short story writer, too, but I always prefer to read novels when given a choice, and Everything Beautiful Began After is his first novel.
After reading the prologue, I was worried that I would find the whole novel somewhat impenetrable – beautiful, but written so abstractly that I’d need to really concentrate to work out the meaning, something I don’t always have the energy for at present. I could grasp what he was trying to do, viewing events through the lens of a child, but I was relieved when the rest of the book was written in a more easily readable style. Still very beautiful, though, as occasionally he jumps out at you with phrases that smack you over the head with meaning, such as:
… truth is just a lie that everyone believes.
And it takes a moment just to let that sink in, how true it is to life, but how it also simply sums up everything that particular character is experiencing at that moment.
All of the characters in this book are very inward-looking, very self-aware, and prone to analysing their own feelings through a microscope. But it’s really about growing and changing, not forgetting tragedies, not getting past them, but accepting them as part of who you are and what you’re going to become. Even just as the title says – everything beautiful began after – and indeed, it’s once you get past and accept the snags of your life that something beautiful can begin.
This is also a surprisingly fast read; I have a relatively small size hardcover version with 400 pages and I absolutely zipped through it. Except for those moments which catch you off guard, and make you stop and think, the book is a smooth and very beautiful read. It is probably worth sinking in and spending a bit more time with it if you can, though I do think it was incredibly powerful to read it in as few sittings as possible, as I did.
Very highly recommended for those who enjoy literary fiction, flat out beautiful writing, and engaged, thought-provoking characters. This won’t be the last time I read a book by Simon Van Booy.
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