Thursday, September 29, 2011

Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon Van Booy

Simon Van Booy brings to the page his unique talent for poetic dialogue and sumptuous imagery in this his remarkable debut novel of love and loss, dependence and independence. 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
There are a number of very enthusiastic fans of Simon Van Booy. After hearing rave reviews from Jen and Bookfool (amongst others) I added his books to my list but he doesn't have any books in my library catalogue so I was contemplating how I was going to get my chance to try his writing! Lucky for me, not long after this book came up on Netgalley, and I requested instantly!

Now, I am lucky enough to be able to join in on the praise, because the language was a joy to read! Simon Van Booy has writing the human condition down. He conveys emotions with really beautiful language used to express them! For example, from pages 48-49.

"I think he looks lonely," Rebecca said.

"But there are always people on the street below his balcony ---"

"That doesn't mean anything," Rebecca interrupted. "Loneliness is like being the only person left in the universe, except that everyone else is still here.

Earlier this week I shared a teaser for Teaser Tuesday about one of the main characters, Rebecca, and now here is one about Henry from page 53:

And he would continue watching himself from the shadows - impersonating the man he should have been.

Van Booy understands and comments on human emotions - certainly ones that I could relate to (from page 79)

He wanted to love her, and almost could - but there was something holding him back, something he could feel but couldn't see. He'd felt it all his life, like a wall between him and happiness.

In addition to capturing the human spirit Van Booy also made me want to travel to Athens , to breathe in the air and gaze at the vistas that he had described in the books. I love it when a book makes me feel that way. This quote comes from page 171:

Hundreds of miles away in Greece, it was morning. Oranges stud the trees, even in winter. You imagined lines of cars at lights. Taxis on the main avenues around Omonia Square. Old women in black sitting on the steps of the church, their hard shoes bent to one side. You imagined your old apartment. A desk and the reflection of passing birds.

The square beneath your balcony. Athens at dawn, a cool blue breath.

Lingering stars.

At sunrise, the city blushes. Stone statues glow pink with life for a few minutes, and then fade back to plain white with no memory of their momentary passion.

Okay, enough quotes although there are a load more I could have chosen. What is the book about? Well, I actually am not going to say too much more than three lonely and isolated people are brought together in Athens. Their paths cross and each of them is changed in ways that they could never fathom. There is friendship, love and loss, deception and redemption, being lost and then finding your way back again and so much more. In fact this ended up being a completely different book than the one I was expected to read in many ways, but I don't want to spoil for anyone who is planning on reading the book. Even if you think that you know what this book is going to be about you really don't.

Despite how much I loved the book, I haven't given it the highest possible rating. When I read the prologue I actually commented to someone that I had no clue what was going on. It took a little while for the prose to settle down from being overly flowery into truly exceptional and eventually the prologue became clear but it took a while! Some might find it a little self indulgent at times, but if that doesn't bother you then you will find it a very enjoyable read. The other thing is that there was a plot twist late in the book, that I just don't recall seeing any clues about. I don't mind plot twists that come out of nowhere as long as you can look back and say oooohhhh, right!

Speaking of plot twists, the author used an interesting tool in the book in that there is a change of tense within the book from third person to second person. I am not the biggest fan of second person narrative, but I have to say that in this case it really worked! It definitely helped define the sense of helplessness, of loss, of despair in a way that third person might not quite have managed.

It should be noted that this is a book that it is probably best to read in paper as I had some issues with reading some sections in the book due to formatting in the ebook. There are a few sections where the narrative is driven forward through the use of letters which are type written on hotel stationery. Because they are inserted in the text as images I was unable to zoom in so that I could read those letters on my ereader. I ended up having to come onto my computer and read it through the software so that I could actually see what had been written. This hasn't affected my grade though because really this is a formatting issue rather than a story issue but it was something I felt should be mentioned!

I am so glad to have read my first Simon Van Booy book! It certainly won't be my last. I am intending to try and track down his previous short story collections.

Thanks for Netgalley and the publisher for my copy of this book!

Please note that all quotes from the egalley and therefore may be different in the final version of the book, and all page numbers refer to the egalley page numbers which will be different too!

Rating 4/5 although I am seriously tempted to change it up to 4.5/5


  1. Loved reading your thoughts on this one. Now, I'm sure that I will probably like it but I hope I can get through all of the flowery prose...that I am a bit worried about!!

  2. Everyone is talking about this now. I have to check and see if it's at my library. It sounds like something different and possibly lovely to read. Thanks for your review, Marg!

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  4. I'm really looking forward to reading this one. I loved your review because I hadn't known that the beginning was a little hard to follow, so now I know to pay close attention. I read the first page at the bookstore and knew it had to come home with me!

  5. I read Love Begins in Winter, which is one of his short story collections and was just overwhelmed at how much emotion and pathos he packed into his stories. I really have been wanting to read this one as well, but hadn't made the time for it. I am so glad to hear that you really enjoyed this one! If you get a chance to read Love Begins in Winter, I would say go for it!

  6. Oh, I love the quotes you shared! Sounds like Van Booy really understands the human experience and can put it into very poignant language.

  7. Oh, Marg, what a beautiful review!

    We've already chatted about Everything Beautiful and how you much I think you'll love Simon's short stories, but . . . if you don't manage to find them by February, I will bring you a copy. I'll get back to you on that -- possibly coming to Melbourne, then, but it's not definite.

  8. Bookfool, I hope you do get to come to Melbourne!

    Aarti, poignant is a perfect description.

    Zibilee, I am really looking forward to discovering Simon Van Booy's short stories.

    Anna, I hope you enjoy it. I could have quoted a lot more believe me!

    Susan - definitely lovely to read.

    Staci, it is worth getting through it to get to read the language and the story.