Saturday, August 06, 2011

EVERYTHING BEAUTIFUL BEGAN AFTER by Simon Van Booy (2011) Harper Perennial, 396 pages

There are rare books that conspire to make you part of their narrative, to not only draw you alongside the characters, but also to draw you in as if you are a character yourself. I felt that tug from Simon Van Booy from the opening pages of EVERYTHING BEAUTIFUL BEGAN AFTER, a novel that is irresistibly enchanting.

Our reliable, omniscient narrator insists: "For those who are lost, there will always be cities that feel like home. Places where lonely people can live in exile of their own lives--far from anything that was ever imagined for them."

Beautiful, haunted Rebecca moves to Athens to develop her skills as a painter after years of flying "around the world serving meals and drinks to people who found her beauty soothing." In Greece she plans to "live in exile with her she imagined them on canvas, like faint patches of starlight; hopeful, but so far away" Van Booy's prose already has you in its thrall, doesn't it?

Not long after settling into her small corner of Athens Rebecca meets George, an American from the South "who looked the sort of man who had read all of Marcel Proust in bed" and whose grandfather was a character in GONE WITH THE WIND (which Rebecca read in French), a minor one in the background, "riding by on a lazy horse." The two become friends and Rebecca kisses George on the cheek "again and again, until her kisses, like empty words, carried only the weight of consolation." Soon Rebecca meets Henry, an archaeologist, at work on a dig, and a man whose allure she cannot resist. As they walk along the Panathenaic Way, Rebecca is drawn to him as "Henry described the statues as though they were part of his family."

Through a series of chance meetings (or, the heavy hand of fate), all three are thrown together and fall headlong into a summer that will forever define them. An unexpected event changes the trajectory of all of their lives, and, as mute witness, you will find yourself entirely caught up in their separate loneliness, which Rebecca explains "is like being the only person left alive in the universe, except that everyone else is still here."

In a narrative that shifts between omniscient third person, limited second person and first person correspondence (charmingly printed as if typed on an old standard typewriter in courier font), Van Booy will startle you with his deft grace and insight.

Do not miss being completely immersed in EVERYTHING BEAUTIFUL BEGAN AFTER.


Beth Hoffman said...

Such a stunning review! This book sounds divine. I simply must have it.

Janet said...

It is a gorgeous, gorgeous read, Beth.

Beth Hoffman said...

I bumped it up to be the next book I read!

Jacques Filippi said...

I'm a big fan of Simon, especially his short stories, and I really liked this first novel. I had the pleasure of doing an interview with him in New Hampshire 2 years ago; he's such a great guy and a nice human being. Add this to his storytelling abilities and you end up with a fantastic writer.
I highly recommend his two short story collections; I've never read better short stories.