Friday, September 16, 2011

Review: Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon Van Booy

Everything Beautiful Began AfterRebecca, a gifted artist from a village in France, George, a passionate linguist and Ivy League graduate, and Henry, a dedicated archaeologist with a dark secret back in England, meet by chance in the middle of summer in Athens and their brief acquaintance becomes more than any of them could imagine - their love triangle is only the beginning.

The cover of this book was one of the reasons I requested it. It seemed to go perfectly with the description and promised romance in an ancient city. Although the image is somewhat deceiving (if you look closely the two lovers' clothes would be more suitable for much cooler weather than Athen's sweltering heat) it is fitting for this book that seems permeated with that breathtaking feeling that pushes men and women into darkened niches and doorways to steal a kiss and an embrace in the middle of a leisurely stroll. It is so beautifully written that I literally could not put it down wanting more and more of the poetic language and the powerful imagery. The writing even remedied the fact that the first half of the book reminded me of the novels set in the 20s where everything seemed to be about aimless ambling of some youth in a foreign land. And then things got better.
With the introduction of the love triangle the story immediately grew more interesting, more purposeful and I enjoyed the development of the relationship between Rebecca, George and Henry as well as the development of their characters. Van Booy describes them without really describing them in the way I'm used to seeing in other books. For example he says that George "looked like a man who had read all of Marcel Proust in bed." How great is that? You immediately get an idea of the man and you don't need a description of his height, build or haircut. They are to each other what they've always needed and while all three are interesting to me George is more so because he is so unusual. After all, a boy who translates ancient texts for fun is definitely not like anyone else I've ever read about. "The passions we cannot control are the ones that define us," he says. But George is dominant only in the first half of the book, the second half is all about Henry because more than anything this books is about adults finally growing up, making peace with their childhoods and themselves and it's his turn.
The second half of the book is unusual in that it's told almost entirely in second person and it's mainly an epistolary novel told in the letters Henry sends to George via fax. The best part is that the faxes are actually images of the messages on letterhead, postcards, old telegram forms and Henry tells his story with such humor and detail that despite the brevity you get a very good idea of his state of mind and condition. He has to learn to love again and his journey is the longest of them all and the most tumultuous but those are the most interesting ones, aren't they?
This was one of the more unusual books that I've read this year and one of the better books as well. If you like a good story, beautiful writing, interesting characters and rules broken the right way I think you will enjoy it as well.

ARC of this book received from HarperCollins via NetGalley.


  1. The cover is beautiful. This book has been on my radar for a while, but you've made me really want to read it!