Friday, August 24, 2012

Review: Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon Van Booy

Athens, Greece via
Reviewed by Connie

Published: 2011

It's about: Rebecca -- a beautiful, French artist, George -- a drunk American linguist born into privilege, and Henry -- a charming English archaeologist, have all come to Athens, Greece in search of something. Through a series of chance meetings, they find what they have been searching for in each other. Book One of this four-part book details their summer in Athens. The following three books demonstrate how each character is defined by that all-important summer.

I thought: This was a very uneven read, and as such, I cannot give a rave review of this book. The prose is at times very pretty, and the first book is a rather enjoyable read, if not entirely believable (after all, who says literature has to be believable?).

However, the list of this book's positive qualifications ends there. There are too many failings in this book for me to recommend it to anyone. Van Booy very much experiments with form, and I find these experimentations very unsuccessful. For example, in books 2 and 3, the narrative shifts from third person omniscient (which was used in the first book), and the reader "becomes" the character Henry and is addressed as "you." (i.e. "You walked onto the balcony, so depressed you wanted to hurl yourself off of it.") As Henry is undergoing an intense emotional experience in these books, I suppose Van Booy wanted to make the reader feel as if he or she is actually experiencing the same thing, but it didn't work for me. In fact, I found it so irksome, I found myself connecting even less with Henry's experience.

Then, in the epilogue, Van Booy attempts another play with form, and switches to the present tense. Again, a failed experiment. Sometimes playing with form can really pay off, but not in this book's case. Plus, I thought the prose frequently felt contrived. Van Booy forces a lot of strange metaphors that I suppose are meant to seem poetic and insightful but feel unnatural. Take this passage for example, in which Rebecca pins back her hair:
"She held bobby pins in her mouth, and then applied each one like a sentence she would never say. Her hair was dark red, as though perpetually ashamed."
Really? This was one of many eye roll inducing passages for me. And yet, there are other moments of very pretty prose, so each sentence was hit or miss.

Verdict: In-Between

Reading Recommendations: I downloaded this ebook during Harper-Collins' 99-cent ebook sale. I wouldn't pay any more for it than that.

Warnings: sexual content, drinking, a brief moment of mild gore

Favorite excerpts:
"You've learned... that everything you are afraid of will never happen. It's the events you cannot conceive of that happen."

"Athens has long been a place where lonely people go. A city doomed to forever impersonate itself, a city wrapped by cruel bands of road, where the thunder of traffic is a sound so constant it's like silence."

What I'm reading next: Sophie's Choice by William Styron