Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Everything Beautiful Began After: A Novel by Simon Van Booy

I loved Simon Van Booy's short story collections- loved- so it's fair to say I had high expectations of his debut novel, Everything Beautiful Began After, and fortunately they were not only met, but exceeded. Isn't it so incredible when that happens?

Everything Beautiful Began After begins one summer in Greece, when the lives of three strangers become intertwined forever. Each has come to Athens for a different reason, Rebecca has come to paint after years working as a stewardess, raised by her grandfather after her mother abandoned her and her twin sister when they were young. Floating in the world she hopes to find her passion in the heat of the city. After graduating from university, George has come to Athens to translate ancient languages. He spent his childhood at a boarding school and lacks connection to anything but language and alcohol. Henry, an archaeologist, has come to dig and unearth the secret worlds hiding underground. When they meet, the three lost and lonely souls of Rebecca, George and Henry become irrevocably entangled, their lives changed forever by one summer in the dusty city.

What is there to say about a nearly flawless novel, a book whose every second sentence you feel obligated to record, beautiful word following beautiful word in a way that doesn't seem possible, let alone human? Near the beginning of Everything Beautiful Began After, Van Booy writes:
"For the lost souls of the world, Athens is a place not to find themselves, but to find others like them."
This is exactly the Athens that George, Rebecca and Henry find. Each of them is broken in their own way, longing for something they cannot find. It is a book of heartbreak and loss, a book of beginnings and endings.
"You were unsure which pain is worse- the shock of what happened or the ache for what never will."
The only aspect of the novel I didn't enjoy at times was the use of the second person singular style (you) for portions of it. It comes across blunt at times and because it isn't consistent with the entire book felt abrupt when it did occur. Van Booy's prose is so smooth and lyrical that the "you" felt harsh and mismatched. I was also surprised, but intrigued, to notice that a portion of the novel is taken almost exactly from a short story published in The Secret Lives of People in Love, although I won't say which one for fear of spoiling part of the storyline. The excerpt fits smoothly within the context of the novel, and I suspect it was what inspired the story as a whole.

At one point in Everything Beautiful Began After, Van Booy writes:
"Language is like drinking from one’s own reflection in still water. We only take from it what we are at that time."
Perhaps it is only that I read this book at exactly the right moment, so that its flawless beauty and feelings of longing and desire could seep into my body, embed themselves into my cells, leave memories along my skin. But I doubt it. Even nearly a month after reading the book, I know that Simon Van Booy's debut novel, Everything Beautiful Began After, is beautiful from the first page and that is the truth, or as Van Booy calls it "a lie that everyone believes". Still, if the beauty of this book is a lie, it is one I want to be told again and again and again.

Release Date: July 5th, 2011
Pages: 416
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This review was a part of TLC Book Tours. Click here to read what other tour hosts thought. For the purpose of this review I was provided with a copy of the book which did not require a positive review. The opinions expressed in this post are completely my own.

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