Everything Beautiful Began After – Book Review

On the way back home through the dusk, she’s going to ask her father for the story of how he met her mother. All she knows is that someone fell, and that everything beautiful began after. – from Everything Beautiful Began After, Prologue –

Three people’s lives intersect in Athens, Greece one summer.

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. Those who live within the city itself live within a cloud of smoke and dust – for like the wild dogs who riddle the back streets with hanging mouths, the fumes linger, dispersed only for a moment by a breath of wind or the aromatic burst from a pot when the lid is raised. – from Everything Beautiful Began After, page 11 –

Rebecca is an artist from Paris who has come to the Mediterranean to paint – but she is also searching for herself among the Greek ruins. George, a southerner from the United States who grew up in New England boarding schools, is also searching for identity. Brilliant in language, but lost in alcohol, he is looking for acceptance and the love that has so far eluded him. Henry is an archeologist who carries the guilt of his brother’s death – more than the bones of ancient people, it is forgiveness he really seeks. These three characters meet by chance, but are drawn to each other – three damaged people who are looking for deeper meaning in their lives.

Simon Van Booy’s novel unfolds slowly, weaving back and forth in time, giving glimpses of the characters’ lives and uncovering their secrets and desires. Readers familiar with Van Booy’s short stories will recognize the themes of identity, love, grief and the power of human connection as familiar. Van Booy’s prose has a poetic rhythm to it. He uses simple, yet powerful, sentence structure to create beautiful imagery, effortlessly drawing the reader into the world of the characters.

One strong theme in the novel is that of fate vs. choice. Rebecca is not a believer in fate. Abandoned by her mother, she sees the future as a series of personal choices – yet, she of all the characters, is the most impacted by chance.

Rebecca told herself that she did not believe in fate. She believed that she alone was responsible for everything that happened to her. If there was such a thing as fate, she thought, her mother would be blameless. It would have been her fate to abandon her daughters.

But it was not fate.

It was her decision. – from Everything Beautiful Began After, page 140 –

Van Booy also examines childhood experiences and how they impact adult lives. Each of the characters has had childhood losses: Rebecca’s loss of mother, George’s loss of parental love, and Henry’s loss of his brother. Those losses effect how each character is able to form connections to others and open their hearts to love. Van Booy weaves his narrative to allow the reader access to the characters’ deepest fears by showing their pasts. Some of the most moving passages in this novel revolve around the parent-child relationship.

A novel like Everything Beautiful Began After always risks becoming maudlin or depressing. But, Van Booy’s talent carries the book from despair to hope.

After every chapter of devastation, there is rebuilding.

It happens without thought.

It happens even when there is no guarantee it won’t happen again.

Humans may come and go – but the thread of hope is like a rope we pull ourselves up with. – from Everything Beautiful Began After, page 367 –

Van Booy manages to surprise his reader with subtle twists and turns of plot. He gives his characters room to grow. He enthralls with simplicity and careful, eloquent description of the small things in life.

And he is enchanted by the beauty of small things: hot coffee, wind through an open window, the tapping of rain, a passing bicycle, the desolation of snow on a winter’s day. – from Everything Beautiful Began After, page 401 –

I wondered whether Van Booy had the ability to pull off a novel-length work. But I should not have ever doubted his talent. I loved this novel as I have loved Van Booy’s short story collections. This is a gorgeous meditation on love and human connection, a poetic piece of work which completely captured me. Readers who are drawn to literary fiction and who seek out novels that transport them, will not want to miss Everything Beautiful Began After.

Highly recommended.

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Don’t take my word for it. Read other reviews of this book by visiting the TLC Book Tour page and follow the links.

FTC Disclosure: Many thanks to Harper Perennial and TLC Book Tours who put this book in my hands for review.


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  1. I am so getting this book.

  2. I can’t wait to experience his writing – everyone seems to love it.

  3. I’m so excited about this one! Sounds like there is so much depth to the story and characters, and would be a novel that could be mulled over long after reading. Plus, I’m always on the search for authors who are masters with prose, and this one looks like a good one to add to the list. Great review!

  4. Ever since reading one of his short story collections, I have been fascinated by Van Booy’s writing. I really want to read all of what he has out there, but especially this longer book, for much the same reasons that you wanted to read it. I really love the way he imbues everything with such emotion and that his characters are so human. This was a great review, and I am going to have to check this one out. Thanks!

  5. This one sounds *amazing*. I’ll definitely have to make time for it after my Booker reading is done!

    • Amused on July 26, 2011 at 19:51

    I like books where you have people’s lives come together. If Greece is the setting even better. This book sounds like a must.

  6. Another person that loves this book! I think I might have to see if my library will buy it…

    • Audra on July 27, 2011 at 09:26

    I’m reading this now and am in love. It’s so gorgeous!

  7. I’m so glad you mention that there is hope in this book – I need that when I read about difficult subjects.

    I’m glad Van Booy didn’t disappoint you Wendy! Thanks for being on the tour.

  8. I love Van Booy’s short fiction and have this novel on my “to buy” list. I’m motivated by an opportunity to see him at the BPL in September (I guess that puts me on a deadline, which is probably an extra motivator!)

    • Amy on July 31, 2011 at 12:45

    This is a wonderful review. I was amazed by Simon Van Booy’s talent – not only is his writing beautiful but he writes this remarkable story that I frequently expected to become completely depressing and devoid of light but it never happens. He really understands the cycle of life and how beautiful it can be even when tragedy is part of it.

    I haven’t read his short stories yet but I will…it’s a lovely treat to look forward to!

    • Wendy on August 2, 2011 at 06:34

    Beth: You’ll love it!

    Kathy: I will be very surprised if you do not enjoy his writing!

    Jenna: Hope you’ll get to read it soon … and that you will love it!

    Heather: He really is masterful with character development. I’ll look forward to your thoughts on this one.

    Carrie: Oh, definitely!

    Amused: The setting for this book was great!

    Kailana: I hope they will 🙂

    • Wendy on August 2, 2011 at 06:37

    Audra: SO glad you are also loving the book!

    Heather J: You’re welcome – thanks for having me 🙂

    Dawn: I got to meet Van Booy last year at BEA and he is really interesting and fun to talk with (he has a good sense of humor!). Hope you’ll get a chance to read the book before that event!

    Amy: Glad you also loved this book – and yes, I agree about the writing – gorgeous, hope-filled…wonderful. Hope you’ll enjoy his collections of short stories too!

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