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Beautiful World, Where Are You

Recap & Book Summary



The Quick Recap and Chapter-by-Chapter Summary for Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney are below. Spoiler warning: these summaries contains spoilers.

For a non-spoiler version of the plot synopsis, see The Bibliofile's review of Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney.

Quick(-ish) Recap

The one-paragraph version: Alice and Eileen are best friends from college, both 29 or 30-ish. Alice is a successful novelist who has recently had a nervous breakdown. She starts seeing Felix, a warehouse worker she met off Tinder. Meanwhile, Eileen is an editorial assistant at a literary magazine in Dublin. She starts a casual relationship with Simon, a handsome childhood friend. Felix initially resists a relationship with Alice, saying that she likes him behaving poorly towards her so that she can be morally superior. Simon, too, doesn't really pursue Eileen (even though he has always loved her), saying that she pushes people away. Alice and Eileen also have tension in their friendship, since each feels they care more than the other does. In the end, both couples (and the women) are able to be more vulnerable with one another. The couples end up together and the women forge a stronger friendship.

The book opens in a village a few hours away from Dublin with Alice Kelleher meeting a man from Tinder, Felix Brady, at a bar. Alice is a novelist who is new in town and who has published a successful book, and Felix is a warehouse worker. The date is awkward and the two don't quite hit it off.

Meanwhile, in Dublin, Eileen Lydon (Alice's best friend), 29, meets up with a family friend, Simon Costigan, for coffee. Eileen is an editorial assistant at a literary magazine. Eileen was a social outcast in primary and secondary school, and her older sister Lola was mean to her. Simon (who is 5 years older than her) was the first person to really befriend her when she was a teenager. Later, when she's 21, she ends up sleeping with Simon after he has a bad breakup, but nothing comes of it from there. In present day, Simon tells her he's bringing a woman he's been seeing (Caroline) to Lola's upcoming wedding, but he offers to go alone for Eileen's sake if she wants.

(Throughout the book, Alice and Eileen write letters back and forth updating each other on their personal lives and detailing their thoughts on various topics. In the letters, you can see that they care about each other a lot, but that there is some unspoken tension between them as well.)

Alice and Felix later run into each other in town and Felix invites her to a party at his place so she can meet some new people. Alice attends. She ends up telling Felix about how she had a nervous breakdown a while ago which landed her in the hospital for a short time. She also impulsively invites Felix on a work trip to Rome, offering to pay for everything since he can't afford to go otherwise.

In Dublin, Eileen repeatedly looks up her ex, Aidan Lavin, online to see what he's up to on social media. One night, she calls up Simon and has phone sex with him. A short while later, Eileen is upset to find out that Aidan has started dating someone new, and she ends up going to Simon's place and initiating sex with him. The next morning, she goes to Mass with him (because Simon is devoutly Catholic).

In Rome, Felix says to Alice that he knows she's in love with him. They later have a heart-to-heart where they each admit bad things they've done in the past, and Felix tells Alice that he likes her. They sleep together.

Meanwhile, in Dublin, Eileen and Simon continue hanging out and hooking up. However, they go to party where some else is flirting with Simon, where people are joking about how Simon likes younger women and they're talking about how great Caroline is. Eileen gets upset about all of it and leaves. Simon follows her and they argue. Simon says that he's asked her out before and she wasn't interested. It wasn't until he started seeing Caroline that she started wanting to sleep with him. Simon and Eileen decide to go back to be just being friends.

A while after returning from Rome, Alice and Felix finally see each other again. Felix has "ghosted" Alice since the trip, and Alice is upset with him. Felix says he's not looking for any "big commitments". Alice is fine with it as long as he doesn't ghost her again. They start casually seeing each other. One day, Felix admits that he's not known as the most reliable guy around town and has debts, but he reassures her that he won't be asking her for money. Later, they get into an argument when Felix accuses Alice of liking it when he "acts badly" towards her since it puts her morally above him, which is where she likes to be. Still, they keep seeing each other.

In June, Eileen and Simon see each other again at Lola's wedding and it reawakens their feelings for one another. Afterwards, they both head to Alice's place since they'd previously arranged to go see Alice. The first day there is idyllic with Felix hanging out with the three of them and Alice feeling very happy to have them all there. Simon also reveals that he broke up with Caroline because he was in love with Eileen.

The next day, Eileen tells Alice how Simon is emotionally repressed, and that he only loves when she is helpless and dependent on him. That night, Eileen and Simon look at wedding photos and end up having sex. However, afterwards Eileen says she just wants to stay friends. Meanwhile, Alice and Felix get into a discussion about how Alice claims she so in love with Felix, but Felix thinks they actually like each other the same.

Eventually, the two women also end up confronting the tension in their relationship. Eileen has some resentment over Alice's wealth and lifestyle. Both women also feel that they care more about the other person than vice versa. Afterwards, the two men comfort their respective partners and remind each of the women of how much the other cares for them. Felix says that Alice seems to think no one cares about her, even when they do. Simon also tells Eileen that he has always loved her, but she makes it hard for people like him and Alice to express their feelings to her because she pushes them away before they can.

The book ends with Alice and Eileen making up. It then jumps forward 18 months and we see that both couples are still together. (The pandemic is going on now.) Eileen has just found out that she's pregnant and she's very happy about it.

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Chapter-by-Chapter Summary

Chapter 1

In late March, in a city near Ballina, Ireland (about three hours outside of Dublin), Alice Kelleher and Felix Brady, both in their late twenties or early thirties, meet up in a hotel bar for a first date over drinks. Alice is a novelist, originally from Dublin, who was living in New York for a while. Felix is a warehouse worker.

Alice invites Felix to see her house. They walk over, and it turns out she lives rent-free in a large four-bedroom rectory. They end up in her bedroom, but they both seem to realize that the evening hasn’t worked out, and Felix soon leaves without anything more happening between them.

There seems to be a disconnect between Alice and Felix throughout the date with them misreading each other’s reactions and questioning the things that the other is saying. The conversation also feels a little stilted, and the movement from the bar to her house to her bedroom feels forced. By the end, neither of them seem to be making much of an effort to move things forward, and he simply leaves.

Chapter 2

(This chapter is written in epistolary/letter form.)

Alice writes a letter to her friend Eileen Lydon, musing philosophically about her thoughts on Dublin, conservatism, the environment and life in general.

She also mentions her date with Felix (saying that he “absolutely despised me”, and she blames herself for having “forgotten how to conduct social intercourse”)

The date with Felix was unsuccessful in the mundane way that some of these things typically go, but Alice describes it as Felix “despising” her and blames her lack of social skills for it. It seems less like an accurate depiction of what happened and more like her being self-deprecatory and a little hyperbolic.

Chapter 3

In a shared office space in Dublin, Eileen Lydon, 29, is at work. A friend of hers, Simon Costigan, shows up and offers to buy her a cup of coffee, which she accepts. As they get coffee, Simon asks for Eileen’s opinion on a situation between two people they know. It involves two friends who became roommates and then started sleeping together. Now, the male roommate is seeing someone else and the female roommate is upset.

Simon also asks about Eileen’s sister Lola, who is three years older than her, is getting married soon. He mentions to her that he’s planning on bringing someone he’s been seeing to the wedding as his plus one.

Simon has known Eileen and Lola since they were kids, living across the river from them. He’s five years older than Eileen, was raised Catholic, and suffered from epilepsy as a young boy.

At the end of the day, Eileen goes back to her apartment which she shares. She eats some leftovers and looks up a bunch of social media profiles for someone named “Aidan Lavin” online. She also browses the profile of someone with the username “Actual Death Girl” who commented on one of his posts.

Simon offers to go alone to the wedding for Eileen’s sake, which hints that their relationship isn’t entirely platonic. Later in the chapter, it clarifies that Eileen has had a crush on Simon for a long time and that they ended up sleeping together a few times after Simon had a bad breakup.

(For the rest of the chapter, the book now gives an overview of Eileen’s life from childhood until present day.)

Eileen grew up on farm that her father Pat managed in County Galway. Her mother Mary was a Geography teacher. Whereas Lola has been “sturdy, brave, and mischievous”, Eileen had been “anxious and often ill”. When she was 12, she started attending an all-girls school but had no friends there.

The summer she was 15, Simon, who was 20 at the time, had started going over to their house to help out on the farm. Lola was nicer to her when he was around. Simon was also kind to Eileen, and she developed a crush on him. At it was time for him to return to England, Eileen had been upset, and Simon promised to stay friends with her.

When she is 18, Eileen goes to college in Dublin. She befriends Alice Kelleher and as sophomores they become roommates. Eileen does well in college, collecting academic awards and prizes, and she makes friends there. When Simon moves to Dublin, Eileen invites him over, and he soon starts visiting Eileen and Alice regularly.

When Eileen is 20, she loses her virginity to some random guy. By now, Simon has moved to Paris. Eileen goes to visit him.

After graduating, Eileen gets her Master’s in Irish Literature, and she starts working at a bookstore. Alice is now working in a coffee shop and working on a novel, and they are still roommates. In Paris, Simon is now living with his girlfriend, Natalie. At the farm at home, her parents are having financial troubles.

When they are 24, Alice gets a book deal for $250,000. Eileen is now dating Kevin, a Ph.D. student, and is now working as an editorial assistant at a literary magazine. Lola is now working at a management consulting firm and dating a man named Matthew. When Eileen meets up with Lola, Lola asks about her career plans and tells Eileen that she’s eventually going to have to “live in the real world.”

When Simon and Natalie break up after being together for four years, Eileen (now 25) goes to see him. They explore the city together and sleep together. When she gets back to Dublin, Eileen breaks up with her boyfriend, though she doesn’t hear from Simon again until she sees him back at home over the holidays.

In the spring, Alice’s book is published, and Eileen meets Aidan, a musician and sound engineer, at a party. They start seeing each other, and a few months later they take a trip to Florence together. Aiden tells her that he loves her, and they move in together. Around the same time, Simon moves back to Dublin to works as a policy advisor.

For the next three years, Aidan and Eileen live together. Lola gets engaged to Matthew. Alice wins a literary award, moves to New York and stops responding to Eileen’s messages.

In December, Simon tells Eileen that Alice was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in Dublin. A few weeks later, Aidan and Eileen break up, with Aidan saying that “there was a lot going on and that they both needed space.” It’s also planned that Lola and Matthew are to be married in a small wedding in June.

Chapter 4

(This chapter is written in epistolary/letter form.)

In present day, Eileen writes to Alice. She agrees with her about the wastefulness on earth (“cheap clothes and imported foods and plastic containers”). She also talks about howEd Masry people see socialism as being sustained by force, but capitalism is as well (“the forcible expropriation of property” vs ” “the forcible protection of existing property arrangements”).

She talks about how politically they are living in a time of “historical crisis” and the implications it has for the development or possibly the end of the arts. She also discusses whether a “general systems collapse” could potentially happen among the human civilization.

Eileen then shifts to the topic of her biological clock, and she wonders if she can even have kids. She also mentions that she happened to see Aidan on the street recently, which was painful for her. Eileen also describes how terrible she feels about herself (“I just feel like the kind of person whose life partner would fall out of love with them after several years, and I can’t find a way not to be that kind of person anymore”) as a result of her romantic history.

Chapter 5

On a Thursday afternoon, Alice and Felix run into each other in a convenience store. (Alice and Felix talk a little more freely now and are able to joke about their failed date.) Felix invites Alice to a small get-together at his place that night since he knows she is trying to meet some new people.

Alice shows up to Felix’s place at 16 Ocean Rise with a bottle of wine. A woman named Danielle (“Dani”) answers the door, and downstairs another six men and two women are there. Felix tells them that he met Alice on Tinder. When they learn that she was a writer, they look her up online and see that she had some success.

Afterwards, Felix and Alice have a smoke outside, and Felix tells Alice that he dated Dani for about a year a while ago, but they’re just friends now and Dani’s currently seeing someone else.

Meanwhile, Alice tells Felix about her nervous breakdown a while back that landed her in the hospital for a few weeks. Felix then tells Alice about feeling broken down after his mother died last year.

Alice then invites Felix to go with her to Rome next week because the Italian translation of her book is coming out. Felix says he doesn’t have any money to do so, but Alice offers to pay for everything. He agrees to go.

Chapter 6

(This chapter is written in epistolary/letter form.)

Alice writes back to Eileen. She talks about the difficulties of her fame, seeing the things people say about her and how it makes her miserable. She thinks about how the only genuine people she knows now are Simon and Eileen.

Alice then discusses the idea of lost language, focusing on some reading she did about a language known as Linear B was assumed for a long time to be a lost language from the Minoans of Crete. It was later determined to actually be an early written form of ancient Greek. She talks about how the man who pioneered this discovery, Michael Ventris, died in a car accident a few weeks before the book about it was published.

Alice then turns to the topic of Aiden, and she reminds Eileen that she was never really happy with him. She also says that being in a long relationship that doesn’t work out doesn’t make you a failure.

Alice also says that she’s not too concerned about her biological clock right now since she still thinks she has some time, and she’s not sure she wants to have kids either way. Alice also mentions that she’s going to Rome with a friend named Felix. She asks Eileen if she’s still planning on coming to visit in a few weeks, since she wants to introduce her to Felix.

Chapter 7

In Dublin that same Thursday, Eileen is attending a poetry reading hosted by the magazine. She chats with Paula, a woman who works at the venue, afterwards. They talk about their worst break-ups, and Eileen brings up Aidan. She comments on how she spent so long with him and “he just got sick of me”.

That night, back at home, she calls Simon. They start off catching up and flirting a little, but soon the conversation becomes sexual as they describe removing each others’ clothes, and they have phone sex with Eileen mentioning their time in Paris. Afterwards, they agree not to let this affect their behavior towards each other the next time they see each other.

Chapter 8

(This chapter is written in epistolary/letter form.)

Eileen writes back to Alice. She questions Alice’s decision to go to Rome for work knowing that Alice is still struggling mentally. She also admits that she is perhaps in a bad moon writing this letter, but she reminds Alice that whatever her qualms about fame, Alice is still in a fairly enviable position of being well-off financially and that perhaps Alice should try to enjoy it.

In discussing the current political situation, Eileen thinks that people are “generally well meaning and the impulses are right”, but blames the current situation on the decay of the current “political vocabulary”. She also talks about how everyone is being sorted into categories of victims and oppressors with the assumption that “victims are transcendently good and the oppressors are personally evil”. Switching topics, Eileen theorizes that “human being lost the instinct for beauty” when plastics began to proliferate in 1976.

Eileen then turns to the topic of Felix, wondering why Alice is being “coy” about the specifics of who he is and what her relationship is with him. Eileen also admits that the idea that Simon has been dating a woman who is six years younger than her for the last few months “makes me want to crawl directly into my grave”. She talks about how she’s probably very attractive and how the “personal vanity of attractive young women” is “boring and embarrassing”.

Finally, Eileen offers to go see Alice in the beginning of June, right after her sister’s wedding.

Chapter 9

The next week, Alice and Felix arrive in Rome. They arrive at their two-bedroom rental, and leave for dinner.

As they eat, Alice tells Felix about her friendship with Eileen. Alice describes how beautiful and popular Eileen was in college. He shows him a picture of Eileen and Simon, and Felix comments on how attractive Simon is as well. When Alice mentions that Simon is religious, Felix is derisive about his belief in religion, describing it as a “delusion”. Over dinner, Alice and Felix also both learn that they are both bisexual.

(This part of the book is narrating in pseudo-split-screen fashion, with Rooney jumping back and forth to what each character is doing at that moment.)

The next morning Alice meets with journalists while Felix wanders around on his own. Later, as Alice records a television segment, Felix takes photographs on a bridge. That night, Alice goes to give a reading at a literary festival. Meanwhile, Felix is checking the news and social media as he heads to the event. As Alice is onstage, she wonders what Felix is thinking about her responses to questions as Felix listens on in the audience.

Afterwards, Alice signs books as Felix grabs a smoke outside. When Alice is done, they go out to dinner with Brigida and Ricardo, people from Alice’s publishing house.

In the car, Felix expresses interest in doing some cocaine if it’s available. While Alice doesn’t do that, she offers to ask for some on his behalf. Felix comments that he knows that Alice doesn’t want to ask, she’s merely offering because she’s in love with him.

Alice doesn’t say anything in response to this, but she sends Eileen an e-mail saying that if she ever suggests bringing “a total stranger to Rome again please feel free to tell me it’s a terrible idea”.

Alice feels embarrassment (or something similar to it) when Felix very casually comments that she’s in love with him. She probably feels foolish and as a result makes a mental note (in the form of her email to Eileen) telling herself not to try things like this in the future.

Chapter 10

(This chapter is written in epistolary/letter form.)

Later, Alice writes again to Eileen, following up with more information. She says that Felix is 29 and that they haven’t slept together, though there is “a sexual aspect overall” to their relationship.

Alice then talks about how she “can’t read contemporary novels anymore” because she knows the people who write them. They write about ordinary life, but she thinks about how they spend all their time at “festivals, drinking red wine” and complaining about bed reviews or insufficient publicity.

Alice also discusses how the “problem with the contemporary Euro-American novel” is that they rely on ignoring that “lived realities of most human beings on earth”. It puts aside dealing with things like poverty and other difficulties that people face. She says that “we can care […] whether people break up or stay together – if, and only if, we have successfully forgotten about all the things more important than that, i.e. everything.”

Alice then admits that she’s guilty of what she’s describing and doubts whether she’ll write another novel again.

Alice then says Eileen that she knows she was in bad mood writing that last letter, but she reminds Eileen that she’s “deeply loved” by people like her and Simon and her mother. She encourages Eileen to come see her after the wedding.

Chapter 11

That evening, as she’s on her way to a birthday party for a friend named Darach, Eileen gets a call from her mother regarding Lola’s wedding. Her father is upset that one of their relatives, Deirdre Prendergast, was not invited to Lola’s wedding, and her mother wants Eileen to talk to Lola about it. Eileen texts Lola, saying that not inviting Deirdre is “immature”, but Lola retorts by insulting Eileen (saying she’s someone “who’s stuck in a shitty job making no money and living in a kip at age 30”)

At the party, Eileen is chatting with Paula and a woman named Roisin when she starts texting Simon. He says that he has a small gift for her and wants to know if she can meet up tomorrow night. Eileen lies and says that she has plans, and they agree to meet up later in the week instead.

Afterwards, Eileen argues with a guy named Gary about what constitutes a “working class” person. Eileen says that she works for a living so she should count, whereas Gary is referring to more specifically “an impoverished primarily urban subsection of that group with a particular set of cultural traditions and signifiers”.

Close to midnight, Eileen leaves the party and heads home on the bus while she looks up Aidan on social media online. She sees that Actual Death Girl had posted a picture of her self with her arms around Aidan.

As the bus stops at Grove Park, Eileen notices where it is, decides to gets off and heads to Simon’s place. Simon buzzes her up, and she apologizes for showing up unexpectedly. He looks as if he was sleeping already. As he gets her some water, she asks if she can sleep with him in his bed. He says okay, and lay down. Soon, she starts touching him, and they start having sex. As he’s about to climax, Eileen tells him that she loves him, and he says he loves her, too.

The next morning, he’s getting ready for Mass, and Eileen asks to join him. At Mass, they sit with their hands together. Afterwards, they part ways.

Chapter 12

(This chapter is written in epistolary/letter form.)

Eileen writes to Alice, and she tells her about her feelings for Simon and tells her about showing up at Simon’s place last night (though it’s a version of events that omits things like her asking to get into bed with him and initiating sex, etc.)

Eileen also talks about going to Mass with him. She finds it strange how Simon acts so normal and serious he is even as he talks about sinning or he listens to Mass, all of which she thinks is ridiculous. Still, she thinks that she “actually came to admire the sincerity of Simon’s faith”. She says it made her “feel there was something deep and serious in Simon”, though she admits it might also be a product of feeling “all weak and tender” towards him after sleeping with him.

Chapter 13

In Rome, the shower in Alice and Felix’s rental is having problems. When Felix hands Alice his phone so she can Google something to try to fix it, Alice sees that the last site that he visited was a porn site, where he was searching for content pertaining to “rough anal”. When she points it out to him, he apologizes and blushes.

After Felix manages to fix the shower, Alice tells him that she found his interest in “videos of horrible things happening to vulnerable women” rather “disturbing”. Initially, Felix is dismissive of her opinion, and he points out that she’s been trying to use her money to get with him, which Alice denies.

Then, he also tells her he’s done plenty of worse things, like sleeping with someone who was in all likelihood underage, though he says he feels bad about it. He also say that when he was in high school, he talked a younger girl into have sex with him, reassuring her that she wouldn’t get pregnant. But then she got her pregnant, which he thinks is probably the worst thing he ever did. He’s unsure whether he pressured her into it or not.

Alice listens non-judgmentally. Meanwhile, Alice admits that she was cruelly bullied a girl in school, and she feels “panicky and sick” when she thinks about how she behaved.

Afterwards, Felix has a change of heart and says that he wishes he could take back the “horrible comment” he made before. He also says that he likes her. (The book narrates how that conversation seemed to have changed something between them.)

That night, they have a pleasant dinner, and Alice says she’s happy he came here with her. After they go to bed, Felix knocks on her door. He shows her a cute viral video of a raccoon online, and then he strikes up a conversation. It quickly becomes sexual in nature, and he starts to touch her.

When she admits that she thinks about him in a sexual capacity, and he comments that ” you obviously really fancy me”, Alice gets more guarded, which seems to irritate Felix. Still, when Felix admits that he was disappointed to wake up alone that morning, Alice seems to let down her guard again. They end up having sex.

Chapter 14

(This chapter is written in epistolary/letter form.)

Alice writes back to Eileen, and she’s happy that things are going well between Eileen and Simon. She says that it never occurred to her that Simon had been in love with Eileen all along.

Alice also admits that Felix told her about some bad stuff about himself, but that she feels that it’s not her place to judge him. She leaves out the details of what he said, and she rationalizes that plenty of people have done seriously bad things.

Alice then about the “cycle of insincere public apologies” that people are making nowadays and wonders what exactly those people are really supposed to do to about it all. She relates it back to Eileen attending Mass, and discusses how Jesus is “puzzling” when it comes to the topic of forgiveness. (She mentions reading the Bible when she was in the hospital). She wonders if it could possibly be true that if we “weep and prostrate ourselves and God forgives everything”.

Alice tells Eileen about sleeping with Felix. She says she’s afraid of the “indignity” of getting hurt by him, and she recognizes that she has strong feelings (a “terrible crush”) for him.

Chapter 15

After work on Monday, Simon messages Eileen to plan a time to get together again, and she ends up heading over that night.

She brings over a bottle of wine, and they chat about Lola’s wedding. She shows Simon the mean text that Lola had sent her (about having a shitty job, etc.), and he commiserates with her about how if she’d been similarly insulting to Lola, her mother would yell at her. Meanwhile, he talks about work and how his mother is concerned that his father isn’t taking his blood pressure medication.

Soon, things get more physical, and Eileen jokes about how she enjoys “being bossed around” by him and now he makes her feel “very safe and relaxed”. Simon says that he likes the idea of taking care of her. They joke about how Simon has an almost paternal instinct when it comes to Eileen that the people around them seem to recognize as well.

Eileen suggests that she try being submissive sexually with him, and soon he’s gently ordering around as things get sexual. When he’s finally inside her, Eileen says that she loves him, and he says nothing in response at first and then awkwardly says that he loves her too.

Afterwards, they watch the news while eating ice cream. In response to him saying that he’s glad she came over because he was feeing lonely, she talks about how he’s the person she calls when she’s feeling lonely. She then encourages him to call her anytime if he’s ever feeling lonely, regardless of if he wants to chat about something random or if he wants to have sex.

Simon then asks what she thinks would happen to their friendship if he met someone else. Eileen says that she realizes he probably would have to give her up. Simon then suggests that perhaps he’ll never meet that other person then since he doesn’t want to give her up for anything.

Chapter 16

(This chapter is written in epistolary/letter form.)

Eileen writes to Alice. She starts by talking about the Late Bronze Age collapse, which was brought up un a previous letter. She contemplates how most of the people weren’t part of the rich populace that used the fancy stuff from that time, and how those people engaged in exorbitantly expensive trade and their lives imploded. Instead, perhaps for the peasants (which was likely most of the people) their lives just continued on as normal even after this ‘collapse of civilisation’.

With regards to Felix, she tells Alice that if he’s nice to Alice, then he has her unconditional approval. And if he’s not, then he’s her enemy forever.

Eileen talks about how for a while back in autumn six years ago, she kept a daily journal. In it, she would write about something “good” that day, even if it was just a fleeting moment. She thinks about how later she stopped being able to find the beauty and goodness in ordinary tiny things, but very recently as she was thinking about Simon and Alice’s messages, she felt that feeling (“the nearness, the possibility of beauty”) again.

Chapter 17

In mid-May now, Felix texts with his brother Damian (who has been calling Felix, unsuccessfully, for a few weeks now) about possibly meeting up that night. He’s also still on the dating apps, messaging a guy named Patrick at the moment, and he tells Patrick that he might be available that night.

Afterwards, he calls Alice and asks to swing by her place, which she agrees to. When he arrives at her place, Alice brings up how she hasn’t heard from him in a while. He tells her that he’s not “looking for any big commitments” at the moment.

Felix texts Damian to say he’s not going to be available that night, as Alice goes to get some wine. They flip through Netflix and drink wine, though Felix falls asleep before they select a movie.

When he awakes, Alice is in the kitchen on the phone with Daniel, a writer friend of hers. She offers to let him stay, but warns him that she’ll be upset if he ghosts her afterwards again. She starts to kiss him, and Damian calls Felix, but Felix rejects the call. She gives him head and then they have sex.

Chapter 18

(This chapter is written in epistolary/letter form.)

Alice writes to Eileen, saying that she’s just been in London picking up an award. Now, she’s in Paris. She talks about visiting the Musée d’Orsay that morning and seeing the Manet works. Manet’s frequent model was Berthe Morisot. She says that Manet’s relationship with Morisot reminds her of Eileen and Simon. Morisot eventually married Manet’s brother.

Alice also turns the topic of her own religious views, describing how she’s fascinated by Jesus and how she genuinely loves him. She feels “moved” when she contemplates his life and death. She talks about how she views him as an example in care ethics and community. She also thinks he teaches people not to judge each other.

Alice ends her letter by asking if she should prepare one bedroom or two for Eileen and Simon when they go to visit her.

Chapter 19

On Friday, Lola asks Eileen when she’s available for a cake tasting, and Eileen says she can do anytime other than Saturday night. Lola then asks if Eileen is seeing someone, and Eileen says yes. When Lola finds out that it’s Simon, Lola calls him a “freak” (because he goes to confession, etc.), and Eileen accuses her of still being “mad that he likes me better than you”. Eileen also says that Lola dislikes him “because he’s the only person who has ever taken my side against you”.

That night, Eileen calls her parents. When she talks to her mother Mary, she discusses her grievances with how Mary handles Lola’s behavior, especially when Lola loses her temper with Eileen. The topic of Simon comes up later, and Eileen makes a joke about maybe marrying him someday.

The next night, Eileen is at a party at Paula’s house talking to someone named Leanne when Simon shows up. Leanne knows Simon, who she hasn’t seen for some time, and she tries to introduce Simon to Eileen. Simon and Leanne start to catch up. Eileen notices Leanne “twisting a lock of her hair between her fingers” as she talks to him.

Then, when Simon’s name comes up later, someone named Hannah starts talking about how great Caroline (the girl Simon had been seeing) is. They also joke about how Simon likes to date women who are significantly younger than him.

Back in the kitchen, Eileen sees Leanne touching his shirt collar. Eileen decides to head out, and Simon stops her, offering to walk her home. He asks if she’s okay. When the topic of Leanne comes up, Simon says he didn’t tell Leanne they were “lovers” because he didn’t want to embarrass Eileen.

When Eileen continues to be upset and brings up Caroline, Simon gets defensive. He reminds her that he asked her out in February and that she said she wanted to be friends. Then, he says that Eileen never showed any interest in him until he told her about dating Caroline. At that point, Eileen started coming on to him (with the phone sex and asking to sleep in his bed and fool around, etc.).

Simon then says that he’s fine with breaking things off with Caroline if Eileen wants to be together, but he’s not willing to “I can’t be single for the rest of my life because it suits you better”. When they get to Eileen’s house, she says she wants to go back to just being friends.

When she’s alone, Eileen wavers between texting him something angry and accusatory and apologizing for her behavior. Instead, she doesn’t text him at all and goes to sleep instead.

Chapter 20

(This chapter is written in epistolary/letter form.)

Eileen writes to Alice, expressing concern about her going on another work trip. She also is somewhat accusatory about Alice going through the Dublin airport and not saying anything about being in town.

Eileen also talks more about the philosophical ideas they’ve discussed before, but there’s more cynicism in her tone this time — for example, she talks nihilistically about how nothing they do really makes any difference, etc.

She also reflects on her relationship with Aidan, saying that perhaps her wanting to be with him had more to do with feeling that it was “easier and safer to stay in a bad situation than to take responsibility for getting out”. She thinks that perhaps she’s scared to let herself be happy.

She describes her ideal of happiness as: “a house with flowers and trees around it, and a river nearby, and a room full of books, and someone there to love me, that’s all.” But she says that it feels “so beyond” her.

She ends the letter by confirming that she and Simon will be staying in two separate bedrooms for the upcoming visit.

Chapter 21

The next day, Alice meets up with Felix and some of his friends at a bar nearby. After they have sex, Alice asks Felix what people think is going on between them. Felix says people in town probably are gossiping a little about then. He admits that he’s not “known as a great catch” around there because he’s thought to be unreliable, and he owes some money around town, too. But he promises he won’t be borrowing money from her.

(This part of the book is narrating in pseudo-split-screen fashion, with Rooney jumping back and forth to what each character is doing at that moment.)

The next day, Alice is on a call with her agent and working on her laptop while Felix is at work at his warehouse job. When Felix finishes his shift, Alice is at home cooking. Felix texts her to cancel their dinner plans, saying that he’s going out with people from work and that he’s in a bad mood and wouldn’t be good company.

As Alice eats dinner alone, Felix showers and heads out to meet his friends. Afterwards, Alice is at home reading, emailing a friend and writing a book review. Meanwhile, Felix and his friends knock about town, taking pills, drinking and dancing.

Alice is in bed looking at her past messages with Felix, when he messages her asking to go over to her place. Felix takes a taxi over and brags to the taxi driver that the woman he’s seeing is rich, famous and really into him. It’s 2 AM when he arrives, still drunk and high. Alice is upset seeing the state he’s in and gives him a hard time, but she lets him up anyway and they have sex. As they do so, she tells him she’s in love with him.

Afterwards, he asks her if she’s a millionaire, and Alice says yes. He starts talking about how Alice doesn’t seem to have many friends and how no one’s come by to see her since she’s been there. He comments that people seem to want things from her, but no one actually cares about her.

Alice responds coldly to his musings, but he brushes it off, saying that she likes when acts “badly because it puts you above me, and that’s where you like to be”. He also says that she claims to be so in love with him, but she actually wouldn’t “let anyone near you”. He warns her that he is not “going to chase too much”, and instead he’ll just wait and see if she comes to him. Alice responds by saying “yes, that’s what hunters do with deer […] before they kill them.”

Chapter 22

(This chapter is written in epistolary/letter form.)

Alice responds to Eileen’s comments about her taking another work trip, saying that she has no plans to retire from public life because this is her job. She also defensive about not alerting Eileen about flying out of Dublin because her flights were at 7 AM and 1 AM in the morning.

Alice also responds to Eileen’s more philosophical comments about beauty and the arts, relating these concepts back to God (“In Catholic doctrine, as far as my understanding goes, beauty, truth and goodness are properties of being which are one with God”).

She then talks about how when she was younger, she felt lonely and unhappy, not understanding that her
feelings “were ordinary, that there was nothing singular about my loneliness, my unhappiness”. She wrote her books to prove that she was a special person, and “in my attempt to prove it, I made it true”.

She recalls how the last time she fell in love, she wrote two books after it ended badly. Before it ended, she had a harder time writing, since she just wanted to write about the person she was in love with. It was only through heartbreak that she could “start giving myself to my work in a serious way”. She thinks back on it as a good time in her life, because it filled her with purpose and a desire (“not desire for another person, but desire to bring something into being that had never existed before”).

Alice then says that it’s been two years since she’s written anything now, and for that reason she thinks it’s time for her to “fall in love again”.

Chapter 23

On the morning of the wedding, Eileen is in the bridal suite with Lola. Their parents soon join them, and the four of them head to the church.

When Eileen sees Simon there, she’s reminded of him as a boy and her feelings for him when she was younger. She recalls when she was young, Lola had run off when they were in the forest, leaving her and Simon alone and in the rain. Eileen had tried to pull him towards her, but Simon had said “Eileen, I know. I understand. But it can’t be like that, okay?”. It wasn’t until much later when she was 21 that they’d slept together. Then, last Christmas when Alice was hospitalized and things were going poorly with Aidan, Eileen remembers seeing Simon and thinking about how he was the person she “needed most to see […], someone who had loved her for her entire life”.

Meanwhile, Simon thinks about how he’s always loved her. He recalls watching her walk away one day and how it was like “watching his life walk away from him”.

The memories flood into their heads as they take photographs and whatnot and everyone else disperses. Finally, they are finally standing there together. In their minds, they think about the same things (“their questions were the same, am I the one you think about, when we made love were you happy, have I hurt you, do you love me, will you always”).

Chapter 24

(This chapter is written in epistolary/letter form.)

Eileen writes to Alice, telling her about the wedding. Eileen is now on a train with Simon, who is talking to some random man, and they are headed to Ballina. Eileen wonders how things would have been different — better — if she’d ended up marrying Simon ten years ago after they’d first slept together.

Eileen is in high spirits, and she writes about how she loves Lola and loves her mother, even if they don’t get along. She ends her email by saying “Can’t wait to see you. Love love love. Eileen.”

Chapter 25

At the train station, Eileen and Alice embrace, with Simon nearby. (The book narrates how in that moment they seem to be “somehow invulnerable to […] vulgarity”, instead possibly “glancing for a moment into something deeper”: “the presence […] of a beautiful world”.)

The three head to Alice’s place, and Felix shows up there and have dinner with them. Afterwards, Simon and Alice do the dishes together. Alice tells Simon how she’s rich now and paid off her mother’s mortgage, but she’s not speaking to her mother and brother anymore since they had a falling-out when she was in the hospital.

Afterwards, Felix comments on how happy Alice seems to have Eileen there.

Chapter 26

The next morning, they have breakfast and head to the beach. Simon and Felix get into the water and start chatting. Felix talks about how his mother passed away last year and left him and his brother her house. Felix admits that he’s reluctant to let his brother sell the house, and he’s been avoiding his brother for the last six weeks as a result. He needs the money and has no desire to live there, but he still feels weird about selling it.

Meanwhile, Simon discusses his work advocating for asylum seekers and he talks about how he once considered joining the priesthood. Simon says that the main reason he ended up not doing so was because he didn’t want to end up alone.

On the beach, Alice asks Eileen what’s going on with her and Simon. Eileen says they’re just “very different”. When Alice presses on and says that it’s obvious Simon loves her, Eileen says that he only loves her “in a way” where he loves when she’s helpless and dependent on him. Eileen feels their relationship is very one-way.

In the afternoon, Felix leaves for work. Alice, Eileen and Simon explore the village. They later have dinner, and Felix meets them for drinks afterwards. When Felix asks Simon if he’s single now, Simon says yes, which surprises Eileen (who didn’t realize he wasn’t seeing Caroline anymore).

That night, Simon comes in as Eileen is scrolling through some photos from Lola’s wedding. As he joins her to look at the photos, they end up laying in bed together, and she asks him about Caroline. He says that he broke up with her because he was in love with Eileen. Eileen start talking about the night she went to his place late at night and they hooked up, and soon they’re getting intimate again.

After they have sex, they talk about what life would be like if they were married. Eileen says that he would have affairs and that it would ruin their friendship. As Simon listens to her, he tells her that it sounds like she doesn’t want to be with him, and she says nothing in response. He gets dressed and leaves. Alone in his room, Simon prays.

Chapter 27

The next morning, Felix and Alice wake up in bed, and Alice tells Felix she loves him before he leaves for work. Felix says “you do, yeah” in response.

In the kitchen, Felix and Eileen chat, and he asks Eileen why it took her so long to come visit Alice. Eileen tenses up at the question and answers defensively. Felix hints that perhaps neither of them were that eager to see the other. He then says that “my theory would be, people like them two are different from you and me” (referring to Alice and Simon vs him and Eileen). Eileen tells Felix to “fuck off” an-and then he leaves.

That evening, Felix gets home from work and confirms with Alice that they’ll go to a party that evening. As he heads out, his dog whines. Felix soon meets up meets up with the other three. In the car, Felix flirts with Simon, and Alice laughs.

They arrive at Danielle’s house where the party is, and Felix wishes Danielle happy birthday. Felix invites Simon to smoke outside, and they go off together. Felix asks Simon if Alice is allowed a dog at her place, and Simon mentions that Alice was thinking about buying the house, in which case she can do what she wants.

Felix also asks Simon what happened last night with Eileen, since they were fine yesterday but they both seem depressed today. Simon tells him that they had sex, but that afterwards Eileen said that she wanted to just be friends. When Felix starts hitting on Simon, Simon gets uncomfortable and talks about how much he cares about Alice as a friend. Felix then asks Simon why he didn’t come to see Alice until now, and Simon responds that Alice kept saying she was busy or out of town.

Later, Felix asks Alice about Eileen and Simon. She says that Eileen thinks Simon “grew up in an emotionally repressive family, and he’s fucked up. He can’t say what he needs.” Felix also jokes with Alice about hitting on Simon and what his response was, and Alice laughs with him.

When Felix’s brother Damian shows up at the party, Felix introduces Damian to Alice. Damian mentions that he’s heard that the film adaptation of her book that will be coming out soon.

Damian also confronts Felix about being unwilling to sign off on the papers to sell the house their mother left them. Felix offers to it tomorrow to stop Damian from “harassing” him. When Damian walks off, Felix tells Alice that the two of them have never gotten along great, but things got worse when their mother became ill.

When Felix comments on Alice being intimidating and difficult to get along with, Alice asks him to please stop criticizing her personality. He says then says that she’s too used to being treated “differently” from people who know who she is and think she’s important, which is why she doesn’t like how he treats her.

He then tells her that she’ll “you’ll find someone who appreciates you better, and you’ll be happier.” He also brings up how he hurt his hand earlier at work. He tells her that if she got injured, he would go take care of her if she wanted, but he doesn’t think she’d do the same for him.

Later that night, Danielle gets everyone’s attention so some people can sing some songs. Felix sings “The Lass of Aughrim” and does it well, and Alice is moved to tears by it.

Chapter 28

On the way home, Eileen find out that Alice is considering buying the home she’s living in, and Eileen remarks that Alice is planning to “stay on holiday forever”.

Back at the house, they chat about their families. Simon says that his mother is obsessed with status and is displeased with his job as a parliamentary assistant. He says he feels guilty thinking about his parents because he was “just the wrong son for them”.

Eileen then talks about how her parents were fine, but her sister made her miserable. She said she had no friends in school and contemplated killing herself until Simon befriended her when she was 15. Felix then asks about Alice, and Alice jumps in to say that Eileen’s parents never approved of her because of their class differences. They wanted to Eileen to befriend “nice middle-class girls”.

Alice also says that Eileen’s parents resent her success now, but Eileen disagrees. Eileen says that she had been upset with Alice for being in Dublin during her hospital stay and not saying anything or responding to her messages. Her parents felt that Alice wasn’t a good friend to her. Alice defends herself by saying she was having a hard time at the time. Eileen then lets Alice know that when she did finally start seeing her, she put her “bank account into overdraft getting buses to see you in hospital every day”.

As Alice and Eileen’s argument ramps up, Eileen stalks out angrily. Simon calmly tells Alice that he knows she’s angry, but that she knows she’s wrong. When he leaves, Alice tells Felix that Simon “goes around making friends with unstable people just so he can feel good about himself”.

In the kitchen, Alice purposefully breaks a wine glass. She then threatens to hurt herself when they all leave, but Felix says he plans to stick around. Eventually, he’s able to talk her down, and he comforts her. Alice apologizes for her behavior. Finally, Felix points out that it’s interesting that Alice seems to think she cares more about everyone else than they care about her. Felix thinks she likes him because he seems that way, but in actuality he thinks they care about each other the same.

Meanwhile, upstairs, Simon checks on Eileen, who is crying. She says that Alice doesn’t love her and that she has no one. Simon reassures her that he’s there for her, but Eileen says that she’s never able to take care of him the way he does her. She also says that they never seem to talk about him and what’s going on with him. With some resistance, he admits that he’s not good at being looked after, and he says that he needs to feel needed.

Eventually, he tells her that he’s been in love with her all along, but he says that it hasn’t been possible because she doesn’t put people in a position to say these things to her (like with her telling him that she wanted to just be friends). He points out that just now, Eileen was demanding that Alice profess how much she cared while Alice was angry with her, which was never going to get the response she wanted.

Eileen then leans over and whisper something to him. A few minutes later, downstairs, Eileen and Alice hug and apologize to each other.

Chapter 29

(This chapter is written in epistolary/letter form.)

Later, Alice writes to Eileen roughly 18 months after Eileen and Simon’s first visit. The pandemic is now going on, and Alice is still with Felix.

She writes about celebrity culture and how her fans think they really know her just because they’ve heard of her. She also talks about how her next book is going. She also writes about how lucky she is to have her, Felix and Simon.

Chapter 30

(This chapter is written in epistolary/letter form.)

Eileen writes Alice back to thank her for her birthday gift. She also reveals that she’s pregnant, and that both she and Simon are very happy about it. She worries about giving birth in the middle of a pandemic, of things like climate change that the child will deal with, and of her abilities as a parent. Eileen then talks about how happy she and Simon are together “to live with someone I really love and respect, who really loves and respects me” and how happy she is in general.

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