Author Simon Van Booy cares about style. It is apparent in everything from his author photographs to the characters he writes about, some of whom wear three-piece suits in the scorching heat of a Grecian summer, shop at Hermes and sport bow ties.
But he might be insulted if you called him fashionable.
“Fashion is a substitute for style,” Van Booy says. “Fashion is very trend-based, and I’m not interested in trends.”
Perhaps Van Booy is subconsciously paraphrasing the late fashion designer and icon Yves Saint Laurent, who once said “fashions fade, style is eternal.”
But Van Booy’s outlook isn’t restricted to his sartorial preferences. Any trend-based gimmicks are refreshingly absent from his new novel, “Everything Beautiful Began After,” a story that effortlessly carries readers on a voyage of love, romance and renewal.
Van Booy’s writing rings with the proverbial pithiness of Oscar Wilde, the elegance of F. Scott Fitzgerald, the clarity of Graham Greene and the wit of Evelyn Waugh, conjuring a strong voice full of poetic, timeless grace of which much of the contemporary literary scene is starved.
The tale is a globetrotting one, and while the characters have international histories, the foundation is set in Greece. The lives of three bright young things revolve around love, the serendipity of circumstance, and how humans wrangle with the lives they are given. Can one’s past imprison the future? Is tragedy a trap or an opportunity?
“I’m an optimist,” says Van Booy. “If you look at the glass as half empty, that’s great, maybe you’ll get a free refill,” he says, laughing.
Despite the dark secret pasts of the characters, there remains a buoyant sense of hope. “This book is about second chances,” he says. Van Booy cradles the world with the tenderness and awe of a child who thinks not of obstacles but of possibilities.
While this is true, the novel is also about desire, and not merely of the romantic kind. A transcendent sense of longing permeates the narrative and its characters. George, the young, alcoholic Greek classicist, phrases it best:
“Language owes its existence and identity to what it can never be, only to what it can point at. For the sound of language is the very embodiment of desire. And despite its greatest efforts, language is destined only to fail.”
But Van Booy’s novel is a far cry from failure. Like his two prior short story collections, Van Booy’s work reveals an invested interest in unveiling the soulful humanity that is just a hair’s breath beneath every human encounter, no matter how banal. Chance meetings may take only seconds to make, but can last a lifetime, and within each of these moments are infinite opportunities to embrace life.
Everything Beautiful Began After
Written by Simon Van Booy
Published by Harper Perennial
Price: $14.99 paper