Simon Van Booy, Everything Beautiful Began After
An unapologetically unironic novel about love and language
Simon Van Booy’s luscious Everything Beautiful Began After is not for cynics. In fact, it’s unapologetically unironic. “To love again,” we are told, “you must not discard what has happened to you, but take from it the strength you’ll need to carry on.” Memory and love are the novel’s timeless themes, and it follows three characters in search of an epiphany. Or four, if you count the Greek city of Athens as a character, which Van Booy has given a personality of its own. It is that metropolis, with its history and sun-dappled beauty that draws together the broken souls of George (a linguist), Rebecca (a stewardess with an artistic streak), and Henry (an archaeologist).
George is an isolated and over-educated drunk who develops comfortable affection for Rebecca — who is, perhaps somewhat predictably, enamored of Henry. The contrast between the easy rapport of friendship and the all-consuming nature of love defines the first part of the novel. It is the aftermath of that to which the title refers. Van Booy looks at how relationships mature over time in the wake of difficult events as mundane as breakups, and as enormously destructive as earthquakes.
At times, the book (narrated by the author) verges into maudlin territory (“Death is the most sophisticated form of beauty, and the most difficult to accept”). Then again, this is a novel about love and language, and as such, dramatic phrasing is uniquely acceptable. In fact, the form of the story nearly veers into the realm of prose poetry in places, though Van Booy’s interpretation smooths over any of these potential rough edges.