PositiveThe Chicago Review of BooksIf Alice’s takedown of contemporary fiction serves as a thesis of sorts for the Irish author’s self-reflexive third novel, it also demonstrates the book’s twofold nature. At one level, Beautiful World, Where Are You is about a writer, cast rather conspicuously in the mold of Rooney herself, navigating the fallout of a personal crisis. But at another, more compelling level, it works as an extended dialogue between Alice and Eileen, who communicate through email for much of the novel’s duration. Their correspondences form the book’s intellectual backbone, invigorating Rooney’s prose with a sharp critical edge ... The novel preserves a measure of distance between Rooney’s characters, giving the reader time to study them in isolation until a trip to the beach erupts into a painful confrontation. It’s a clever tactic for a novel interested in its own internal contradictions. I found myself treating it like a game, searching for thematic overlaps, omissions, and inconsistencies in their stories ... The novelist-critic dialectic isn’t new to Rooney’s work, but the critique she articulates in Beautiful World feels more methodical than in her earlier novels ... If Beautiful World is satisfying at the level of narrative—that novelistic plane where characters get together and break up and get back together again—in the end, I can’t help but find its critique truncated, cut off too soon ... It may be that Rooney has met the limit of her abilities at this point in her career. It may also be that she’s met the limit of her form. Realism is no longer real, she tells us. But as the prevailing mode of literary production, it also lacks the political means to shatter its own illusion. This is to say that the conventions of the novel, congealing alongside the middle class at a time when the laboring masses were denied any sort of aesthetic experience, may well be designed to capture and accommodate unorthodox political thought—to drain it, in effect, of its critical powers. Even so, Rooney’s gesture toward radical transparency raises a tantalizing prospect for left-wing fiction writers who seek a broad readership. There may yet be hope for novelists who wish to break the grip that market logic holds on the real.