Sally Rooney has pulled a Lorde: after releasing two smash hits, she’s retreated from city life. According to Vogue, Rooney has moved back to rural west Ireland, near the quiet town where she grew up; she spends weekdays working and being in nature, and weekends seeing her friends for walks and coffee. So, perhaps it’s not so surprising—though it is nearly unheard of in general—that she’s only doing a single book event for the publicity cycle of her wildly anticipated new novel Beautiful World, Where Are You.
The event in question is a conversation with Emma Dabiri, presented by the Southbank Centre and the London Review Bookshop. On Twitter, the LRB Bookshop referred to the event as a “global exclusive” and specified that it will be “the only event Sally will be doing for the publication of Beautiful World, Where Are You.” (A quick Google search turned up the fact that the appearance may not be entirely exclusive, as Rooney will also be signing books at Waterstones Piccadilly—but maybe that doesn’t count as it’s just a signing and brief reading.)
The scant programming speaks to a (well-earned) confidence that the book will sell. Normally, authors—especially during the pandemic—can be relied upon to try desperately to promote their book in any available way. But if the secondary Rooney ARC market is any indication, Rooney doesn’t need to worry about sales.
So hey, more power to Rooney—if you don’t have to do book promotion, why put yourself through it? But if you’ve read the novel in question, you may suspect that there’s a little more to Rooney’s reticence. In Beautiful World, Where Are You, the character of Alice—a successful young Irish novelist who has, ahem, recently moved to a small town—writes to her friend Eileen about how much she hates doing book events:
What is the relationship of the famous author to their famous books anyway? If I had bad manners and was personally unpleasant and spoke with an irritating accent, which in my opinion is probably the case, would it have anything to do with my novels? Of course not. The work would be the same, no different. And what do the books gain by being attached to me, my face, my mannerisms, in all their demoralizing specificity? Nothing. So why, why, is it done this way? Whose interests does it serve? It makes me miserable, keeps me away from the one thing in my life that has any meaning, contributes nothing to the public interest, satisfies only basest and most prurient curiosities on the part of readers, and serves to arrange literary discourse entirely around the domineering figure of ‘the author’, whose lifestyle and idiosyncrasies must be picked over in lurid detail for no reason. I keep encountering this person, who is myself, and I hate her with all my energy. I hate her ways of expressing herself, I hate her appearance, and I hate her opinions about everything. And yet when other people read about her, they believe that she is me. Confronting this fact makes me feel I am already dead.
That’s fine! You stay at home! We’ll all still buy your book.