As many of you will know already, lit reviewing is a never-ending cycle of read and review, read and review, read and review, and while there are no complaints about that from me (because at the end of the day it’s both a thrilling job and a rewarding one), it’s always nice when one of titles that you’ve been most excited about all year, makes it up to the top of the pile.
For me, there’s been no more hotly anticipated title in 2011 than Simon Van Booy’s debut novel, Everything Beautiful Began After (Beautiful Books – Harper Perennial in the US), and I can’t describe how immensely fidgety I am sitting here typing, knowing that I’m finally on the verge of being able to dive into this one, to discover once and for all whether Simon Van Booy is as deft at penning novels as he is with writing short stories. Bookish friends and followers of RobAroundBooks will know what a big day this for me, but for those who don’t I will just say one thing – I pretty much worship the paper that Van Booy’s words are printed on (and if you don’t believe me then go and read my review of Van Booy’s short story collection, The Secret Lives of People in Love, and the stories contained within).
Before we continue with these forethoughts however, let me make one thing clear. Maintaining impartiality is one of my fundamental principles here at RobAroundBooks, and although it looks as though all of that has gone out of the window before I’ve even got started, I can assure you dear reader that I will not allow myself to be dazzled by greatness, and neither will I be reviewing solely with my heart. I may be beside myself with excitement here at the prospect of reading Everything Beautiful Began After, but you have my word that I will, like every other book I review, be judging this one on merit (with perhaps a tiny sprinkling of blind admiration thrown in for good measure ).
OK, now we’ve cleared that up, let’s get on with the business of having a first look at Everything Beautiful Began After. I’ll begin with the publisher blurb (which as always, may contain mild spoilers)
Rebecca has come to Athens to paint. Born and raised in the south of France, Rebecca’s mother abandoned her and her sister when they were very young, left to be raised by her loving yet distant grandfather. Young and lost, she seeks solace in the heat of Athens. George has come to Athens to translate language. Dropped off at a New England boarding school when he was a child, he has close to no relationships with anyone, except the study of ancient language and alcohol. Henry has come to Athens to dig. An archaeologist, Henry is on-site at Athens during the day, and roams the Agora on the weekend. Three lost and lonely souls whose worlds become inexorable enmeshed with consequences that ripple far among the ruins of ancient Athens.
Right that’s the blurb, and knowing Van Booy quite well, and his flavour of writing, I can see familiar themes arising. We have love, we have loss and if I’m reading between the lines correctly, we also have longing. Interesting, but not unexpected. These are themes which Van Booy plays around with a lot in his fiction writing, and he’s a bit of a genius at teasing out the intricacies of the emotions linked to these themes and rendering them into the most extraordinary prose, using his profoundly lyrical voice. Therefore I expect great things from Van Booy and this debut novel, but the question is, will he be as tightly controlled in his explorations in the less easily controlled environs of the longer form? I certainly hope so.
Something else I’m getting from the blurb above is the sense of the cosmopolitan. If you know Simon’s background then you’ll know that he is well traveled. He currently resides in New York but he’s lived in Wales, Athens, Paris and Oxford, and I know that he does a lot of touring in promotion of his books (he’s recently returned from China), or in search of inspiration for his stories (he revealed at last year’s EdBookFest that his story The Still But Falling World (you can read my brief review of it HERE – it’s a perfect 5/5 by the way ) was written – or at least conceived – while he stayed in the small Italian village of Morano Calabro). All of this traveling and living in different countries has undoubtedly had a huge influence on Van Booy’s writing, and as such, you can tell from this novel already, that an international flavour is most certainly present.
So what else can I say about Everything Beautiful Began After or indeed its most extraordinary author? Well, for now, I think I’m more or less done already. I’m surprisingly tongue-tied here but I think it’s because I spend so much time banging my drum for Simon Van Booy on RobAroundBooks (and on Twitter), that I’ve pretty much said everything that I’ve ever wanted to say about him, for now. I think I’ve made it clear with regards to how much passion and admiration I harbour for this magnificent writer, and I think you all know already just how excited I am about reading this, his first novel. I really do expect great things from Everything Beautiful Began After because I know how breathtaking Van Booy can be both in prose and insight. My only fear, as I’ve said before, is that he will not be able to maintain the immaculate control he shows in his short stories. I’m sure it’ll be fine though, because a writer this gifted isn’t going to simply muck things. Is he?
I’ll be back just as soon as I’m done to let you know how this one worked out. Expect to see me pick up my drum and bang it some more for Van Booy while I’m reading this novel (well I have a whole new bunch of stuff to talk about, don’t I? ). Meantime, if you want to know a little bit more about this most incredible of writers, then please browse the links below (go on, you know you want to )
Beautiful Books | 7th July 2011 | £15.99 | HARDBACK | 416 PP | ISBN: 9781907616617
Harper Perennial | 5th July 2011 | $14.99 | TRADE PAPERBACK | 416 PP | ISBN: 9780061661488
Find out more about Simon Van Booy:
- Simon’s personal website.
- Simon’s Facebook page (check out how dapper he looks in recent photos from China )
- Simon’s Wikipedia page
- Here’s a real audio/visual treat – Simon reading an extract of his story ‘Little Birds’ from his collection, The Secret Lives of People in Love
- In case you missed it, my rather rambling report on Simon Van Booy, with Kevin Barry, at last year’s EdBookFest
A note about forethoughts
‘Forethoughts’ offer an insight into what my initial thoughts and impressions of a book are before I begin reading it. Informal, and largely written as a stream-of-consciousness exercise in a single sitting, my ‘forethoughts’ capture an important stage of the reading experience for me – the anticipatory period before the book is first opened, when my excitement is piqued for the reading experience which lies ahead.
Blissfully ignorant my ‘forethoughts’ may well be, but when combined with my eventual ‘afterthoughts’, the result is a unique and comprehensive record of a very personal literary ‘journey’ through a particular book; a literary journey which will hopefully be of some value to other readers.