Book Review: Everything Beautiful Began After – Simon Van Booy


(Beautiful Books) Hardback £15.99; ebook £12.99

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

At first one is struck by the sheer beauty of the words. Words that combine poetically and often with seemingly abstract imagery into sentences that feel like the most delicate threads that should be reread and savoured for their own protection. The story seems secondary to the desire to maintain the feeling they engender, but the only way to do that is to keep reading. In so doing, one is almost unaware of the degree to which one is being drawn into the narrative, so gently and sensuously do the sentences envelop one.

However, when tragedy befalls the characters half way through the book, following the anger one feels with Simon Van Booy for not only turning the lives of Rebecca, George, and Henry upside down, but also one’s own, realisation dawns as one picks up the book thrown to one side in an effort to break the skein in which he has enmeshed you, that he has you well and truly caught on the hook at the end of those threads. The desire to keep reading is underscored by the fear of how it would feel to go cold turkey at that point such is one’s addiction to the book. Thankfully, although sadness does remain, as the second half of the story unfolds, hope is restored so fully to both the characters and the reader, that like them one does feel better equipped to embrace the future.

Haunted by events in their childhoods, the three lost and lonely protagonists have come to Athens, Greece, from three different countries and ostensibly with three different intentions: French artist, Rebecca, to paint, American expert in ancient languages, George, to translate, and English archaeologist, Henry, to dig. As their lives intertwine, their love for, and dependency upon each other grows, and in the streets of modern Athens and amidst the ruins of Ancient Greece, to further that love they begin to excavate and make sense of their own pasts, ultimately creating the means for independence and redemption.

Van Booy’s debut novel wonderfully and exhilaratingly compounds the promise, talent, and acclaim inherent in his two collections of short stories, Love Begins in Winter (Beautiful Books, 2009), which won the 2009 Frank O’ Connor Short Story Award, and The Secret Lives of People in Love (Beautiful Books, 2010). Beautiful, innovative, devastating, delightful, Everything Beautiful Began After is everything and more.

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