“Language is like drinking from one’s own reflection in still water. We only take from it what we are at that time.”
Everything Beautiful Began After, Simon Von Booy
Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon Van Booy was published in July of 2011. After discussing my love of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway with several people at independent book store, One More Page, in Arlington, VA, I was hand-sold this book. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that this novel may have unseated Possession by A. S. Byatt as my favorite book of all time.
The novel takes place largely in Athens, Sicily, and France, but spans many continents and time periods, and is divided into the time before and after an event. Before the event, in Athens, Greece, three people’s lives converge in unexpected ways as they are all displaced in some way from a life they should be living, where they reside under the cover of shadows from their pasts or demons from their present.
Rebecca, an artist, still feels the hollow wound of her mother’s abandonment of her and her twin sister when they were children. George, a linguist and American boarding school graduate, drinks to anesthetize himself from his loneliness. Henry, an archaeologist, is trapped in a tragedy from his past that has never allowed him to fully live.
The three of them meet each other in the decaying city of Athens and begin to emerge from their vacancies until a terrible incident changes everything. Though their worlds are shaken, the experience leads to true spiritual awakening and appreciation for the tragic beauty of every moment in life.
I knew from the moment I started Everything Beautiful Began After that I was in love. I had to remind myself to breathe after the first chapter, not because of any jarring scenes or shocking moments (those come later), but because of the language. This novel feels like 402 pages of poetry, without a single gratuitous word. Every sentence has weight, but rather than being exhausting, the reading is exhilarating. I underlined half of the sentences in the book, and I know I will reread it many times.
In addition to the elegant prose, there are several point of view shifts in the novel, not only from character to character but also from third to second person, that support both the thematic and character development. There are also many drawings, post cards and letters embedded within the text that enhance the authenticity of the story.
Everything Beautiful Began After is literary, philosophical, and spiritually rich but it is also very accessible, which makes it genius. This is a book club book, and as it was recommended to me, I suggest to you that you read this book on paper. An e-reader can’t possibly do its text features justice. This is a book you’ll want on your shelf to refer to and display so that people thumbing through your library can pick it up and get lost in it.
I can’t do justice to the perfection of this novel. I want to call it a religious experience, but I’m afraid I’ll sound ridiculous or build it up too much for you. I will say that Everything Beautiful Began After profoundly touched me. It is a book I will carry with me and recommend widely. Please read it and tell me what you think.