Romanticism Reborn in Sarah Faber’s All Is Beauty Now (Review)

(Cover courtesy of Little, Brown and Company)

It is said that all good things must come to an end, but it is also said that everything happens in threes. Could Sarah Faber’s debut novel, All is Beauty Now, be proof that the third rebirth of Romanticism is finally upon us? Given that the New Romantic movement, or the primary rebirth of Romanticism, dates all the way back to the 1970s, I would say that such a movement is long overdue.

Why, you may ask, do I consider All is Beauty Now to be ushering in a Neo-Romantic revolution? One need only refer to a line from page fifty-two of the novel in which Faber describes “the beauty and horror of existence”. Such is a recurring undertone throughout the entire book and also accurately describes the subject matter of the original Romantic writers.

In fact, the sublime beauty and horror of nature depicted in Faber’s work will leave readers both awed and chilled in a way that many will not have felt since reading Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancyent Marinere, as All is Beauty Now effectively instills both a sense of awe for and a healthy fear of the sea, just as Rime of the Ancyent Marinere did upon its publication 1798. Faber portrays nature as something equally formidable as it is beautiful, which make it a distinctly Romantic text.

The Place: a resort town in Rio de Janeiro.
The Time: the 1950s-60s.
The Mystery: mere days before her family was set to depart sunny Brazil for chilly Canada, twenty-year-old Luiza goes swimming in the beautiful ocean that she grew up beside… and she doesn’t come out. Convinced, after a search turns up no remains, that Luiza is dead and will never be found, her parents, Hugo and Dora, and her younger sisters, Magda and Evie, must move on with their lives with no definitive answers about what happened on that fateful day.

By blending a Gothic notion of a young woman disappearing without a trace, seemingly taken captive by the ocean itself, with a setting like a 1960s resort town filled with wealthy families, Faber effectively tosses her readers into a storyline with a similar tone to that of Dirty Dancing – if Dirty Dancing was about Baby vanishing, presumably dead, and the suffering of her family that follows. Think Dirty Dancing if it had been written by Bram Stoker.

It is because Luiza’s disappearance is the focal point from which the story is told that readers gain such an intimate glance into the lives and minds of her family, with a special focus on her father – the handsome, eccentric Hugo who very likely has bipolar disorder. Hugo is a prime example of “the beauty and horror of existence” depicted within the novel for he is beautiful and enticing when he is at a mental high, but, as is shown in several flashbacks, he can be a danger to himself and others when he is low. Hugo is a human portrayal of the ocean that took his daughter: awe-inspiring, but capable of dragging you down into the depths of his despair. He is a quintessential Byronic hero, for he is incredibly attractive to those around him, but he has the potential to be destructive and cause havoc when his illness goes unchecked.

To feature Hugo as the narrative’s Byronic hero is incredibly clever on Faber’s part, whether or not it was intentional, for it brings about an inventive way to shed a light upon bipolar disorder, and mental illnesses in general, as they appear in other books. There are a plethora of examples of Byronic heroes in classic Romantic literature – including those penned by Lord Byron himself, like Manfred, and Mary Shelley’s Victor Frankenstein – and to write Hugo as a Byronic hero of the same nature, whilst canonically confirming that he is mentally ill, allows for other characters to be examined under the same lens. In doing so, Faber captures the very essence of what any Neo-Romanticism movement should entail: promoting the re-examination of classic texts with modern sensibilities.

This reviewer, who loves a good mystery and any callback to the passion and beauty of Romanticism, gives All is Beauty Now by Sarah Faber a strong 4.5 / 5 stars review. It is crucial reading to anyone interested in either, and who knows? Perhaps Faber’s novel really will jumpstart the next Romantic renaissance…

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