Everything Beautiful Began After

“For those who are lost, there will always be cities that feel like home.

Paces where lonely people can live in exile of their own lives – far from anything that was ever imagined for them.”

I was going to start off by saying that I would pretty much read anything that Simon van Booy writes. And then I stopped and thought, this book is actually only the second book of his that I’ve read (the first being his collection of short stories, Love Begins in Winter – even announcing it to be one of my favourite reads of that year). So does that qualify? Perhaps. This is after all his first novel. And it is a beautiful one indeed.

So I opened this book – or rather opened the app that opened this Net Galley e-book* – with a bias. I hoped, no, expected this to be a wonderful read that I would recommend to everyone. And it is.

I was worried about writing this review-ish post. After reading writing like that, I despair at my own inane-ness (is that such a word? And, see what I mean?). Of course this book is a product of plenty of time slogging away at it, but I like to think that Simon Van Booy is like this in real life too. He gazes out at the shimmering Aegean, sighs, dips his feathered pen into the inkwell and writes rainbows.

For there are many passages that I bookmarked or wrote down, many times when I stopped and sighed, other times when I stopped myself from reading too fast, but there were also moments where I had hit the Home button on the iPad and went and looked at something else. Some moments were a little too much for me. Perhaps I just felt too invested in these characters, especially Henry and his love for Rebecca. They had such a meet-cute moment that the reader can’t help falling for them.

Before I go any further, I probably should talk a bit about the plot. It’s been talked about in the book blogosphere for quite a while already, but in case you haven’t heard about it, Everything Beautiful Began After is the story of George, and of Henry, and of Rebecca, and it is perhaps also a story of Athens and Europe. It is about head-over-heels, heart-bursting, all-consuming love.

On George:

“He looked the sort of man who had read all of Marcel Proust in bed. The sort who wanted to get up early but chronically overslept. And he walked slowly, hunched into a cigarette.”

Here’s Rebecca:

“She would live in exile with her desires. She would live as she imagined them on canvas, like faint patches of starlight: hopeful but so far away; compelling, yet dispossessed of change.”

And Henry:

Ok I hadn’t actually written a good quote about Henry, at least not one that would not result in a spoiler. So how about these lovelies instead:

“Sometimes children not long exiled from that silent world of softness and gesture, can feel in their tiny hearts the nuances of what we say; and though powerless to act, they sense fully those means that creep like figures in a shadow play behind a screen of language.”

“The beauty of artifacts is in how they reassure us we’re not the first to die.

But those who seek only reassurance from life will never be more than tourists – seeing everything and trying to possess what can only be felt. Beauty is the shadow of imperfection.”

“You will love her immediately. She will giggle at bright colors and movement, random things too – like bread falling off the counter. Later, she will run from you naked – refusing to get dressed. She will cry when you drop her off at school, then cry when you pick her up. She will scream for you in the night and not know why.”

Right. A certain someone is chewing on my arm, telling me that computer time is up soon. So while I have your attention – and he is contented with my elbow – please read this book. I must also add that shortly after finishing this one, I read David Nicholls’ One Day, and found quite a few similarities, but it seemed so much more clunky and argh**!

Title: Everything Beautiful Began After (Amazon link; Indiebound link)
Author: Simon Van Booy
Published: 2011
Pages: 416
Source: Netgalley

* a mistake, I realized, as there are some letters and drawings that would come across far better in an actual physical book. I pretty much gave up trying to figure out some of these letters after a while, after a very futile attempt to figure out what those words were. I suppose I missed out on quite a bit! So I’d suggest you go get yourself a physical copy of this one.


** SPOILER AHEAD: I mean, did he ever want to give Emma a break? I plodded my way through this book, heartened sometimes by some interesting passages, despising Dexter most of the time, being irritated at Ian, just feeling sorry for Emma – and then somewhat happy? I don’t know… I wasn’t sure if I was happy although it was inevitable that they got together. And then THAT happens, that throw-the-book-across-the-room moment, when she finally seemed to be somewhat happy? Ok rant over, wee reader is very fidgety.


  1. I’m glad you enjoyed this one as much as I did. It’s truly breathtaking and some moments just made me want to kick him in the knee for what he did to those poor characters. But it’s all set right in the end. 🙂


    1. I know what you mean! When I read towards that part I was taken aback and had to go back and reread it to make sure I had understood what he was trying to say. At first I wondered if he had meant it metaphorically, and then as I read on, I realised what had happened.


  2. I have Love Begins in Winter but haven’t read it yet. Should get around to it sometime! As far as One Day, I was similarly frustrated with the plot point you allude to. I read in another bloggers’ interview with Nicholls that he thought of the end first. That made me somewhat more tolerant, but it still seems unnecessary.


  3. […] 104. The City of Your Final Destination – Peter Cameron 105. North and South – Elizabeth Gaskell 106. Everything beautiful began after – Simon Van Booy 107. The Invention of Hugo Cabret – Brian Selznick 108. One Day – David Nicholls […]


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