‘Novel of the moment’: Sally Rooney’s third book hits the shelves

It’s been one of the most hyped book releases in the literary calendar, with fans desperate to get their hands on a copy of Sally Rooney’s hotly anticipated third novel.

Following on from the dizzying success of her critically acclaimed first two books, Beautiful World, Where Are You is already the No 1 bestseller on Amazon. Waterstones said that not only were orders up on Rooney’s last novel, Normal People, it was their biggest order for fiction ever.

Reviews for the book, which follows a successful Irish writer, her friend and their lovers, so far range from glowing to more sceptical. While the Financial Times called it Rooney’s “strongest writing thus far”, the Times said that despite having all the elements that made Rooney such a sensation, it lacks depth and complexity of feeling. Nonetheless, people have been desperate to get hold of it, so much so that uncorrected proof copies were being sold online for hundreds of dollars.

At a sold out launch and signing at Waterstones Piccadilly on a muggy Monday evening, a 150-strong queue snaked round the front of the store as fans waited in 28C heat to be the first in the world to buy the book and to meet the author herself.

“I just love her – I love her style and she’s really got her finger on the pulse,” said Judith Wilson, who was eager to tell Rooney about her own two novels she is trying to get published. “I just wanted to see her in the flesh. Ever since I read her first two novels I’ve been hungry for more.”

In a sign of the times, not everyone who secured a ticket was able to attend. “I’m here for my sister, Lisa,” said Chris, who had come, briefcase in hand, straight from work. “She’s a big fan of Normal People, the TV show and the book, but she sadly couldn’t be here because she’s isolating, so I’ve come for her.” He and other attenders donned face coverings as they entered the building and made their way to the first floor.

As well as the Piccadilly store staying open late for the launch event, 50 booksellers across the country will open their doors early on Tuesday morning to cater for the expected demand. Euan from the Portobello bookshop, which is opening early, said that since finishing the final pages of 2018’s Normal People, many readers had been eagerly anticipating Rooney’s next novel. Helena at Warwick Books, also opening early, called it “the novel of the moment”.

The publisher, Faber, is running a pop-up shop in Shoreditch from 10-12 September so people can grab a copy of the novel, as well as Rooney’s previous works and a selection of her recommended reads.

While there had been a massive marketing campaign in the buildup to its release, Bea Carvalho, fiction buyer at Waterstones, said the book was a cultural moment in its own right. “It’s rare for a book launch to have such wide cultural awareness and such a cultural impact. But that speaks to [Rooney’s] appeal; she appeals to people who will read a book a year as well as those who will always read every book on the Booker list.” She added: “She nails what it’s like to be young today, but she also plays in to our nostalgia, and so she appeals to all ages.”

This was reflected in the diverse demographic in the queue. Mum and daughter Mandy and Ana were huge fans of Rooney’s “amazing characters” and how close the books felt to real life, something echoed by 24-year-old Lily, who said she connected most with the realism of Rooney’s writing. “She’s one of my favourite authors so I had to come. I love her style, it’s like real life. It’s like seeing yourself in a book. It’s not romanticised, it just is what it is.”

Equally excited was Tom Curran, 30: “She just does a really good job of getting into heads and describing what life is like at a certain age.”

Watching fans meet Rooney, the excitement was warming, some even squealed as they walked away with their signed copies. The last book launch the store hosted had been for Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror & Light, the third instalment of her trilogy on Thomas Cromwell, which took place over a year ago just before the first lockdown, said Carvalho. “The pandemic has, in a way, been bookended by this event for such a special book. It’s just lovely to have people in bookshops again.”




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