PositiveThe Sewanee ReviewThe prose is extremely spare, even more so than in Rooney’s previous novels. The...narration feels at once oddly distant and voyeuristic. It also doesn’t make much sense ... Felix’s character is paper thin... [He seems] a romanticized representation of the Irish working class. This is an unusual lapse for Rooney, who has proven herself to be an excellent psychological portraitist ... Alice and Felix, somewhat mystifyingly, start sleeping with each other ... Throughout, their relationship feels, if not unbelievable, then at least a little inexplicable ... The novel falters when describing Simon and Eileen’s history—these passages feel lifeless, devoid of the gratifying urgency of Rooney’s first two novels ... Rooney is at her strongest when she focuses on the intricacies of individual interactions between people ... Rooney’s latest novel uses long missives...as a vehicle for political and philosophical issues. This formal choice, occasioned by Rooney’s desire to smuggle mini essays about matters not directly related to the lives of her characters, makes Beautiful World the most ambitious and least successful of Rooney’s novels ... One of Rooney’s natural gifts is writing conversation, both spoken and written. Her novels perfectly capture the way Irish millennials talk and text ... The main reason for Rooney’s astonishing popularity is not, as so many critics claim, the subtle, penetrating attention to class dynamics or even the illuminating way she writes about technology. It’s the sex ... Beautiful World...is a sincere, entertaining novel with a happy ending.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewArudpragasam captures Krishan’s sensitive, roving intelligence as he meditates on the conflict, from its idealistic beginnings, when insurgents dreamed of an independent Tamil state, to its \'unimaginable violence\' and irreparable psychological damage ... a political novel, unequivocal in its condemnation of the many atrocities committed by the Sri Lankan government on its Tamil civilians, but it is also a searching work of philosophy. Arudpragasam, who has a doctorate in philosophy from Columbia, poses essential, existential questions about how we should live in a world with so much suffering. What are our obligations to others, especially those, like Rani, who have been marginalized and oppressed? The novel offers one answer: We owe them our full attention ... Every aspect of the world Krishan inhabits is subject to scrutiny. In sentences of unusual beauty and clarity, Arudpragasam observes even the most mundane of actions — smoking a cigarette, waiting for a train, making eye contact with a stranger — with an attention so absolute it feels devotional. He is equally gifted at atmospheric, sensory description that transports the reader to Sri Lanka and India and at examining the emotions — elation, fear, impatience, satisfaction, shame — that simmer below the surface of our everyday lives ... Arudpragasam also makes numerous sweeping, universal statements about the human condition and what we share with even those who seem most distant from us. Sometimes sentences strain under this heavy burden. But, more often, because he precedes these claims with such precise observation, they feel revelatory ... full of melancholy, but because it takes love and desire as seriously as it does grief and loss, it avoids despair. Krishan is beset by guilt but he is also filled with yearning, in search of a pleasure \'that drew the self more widely and vividly into the world.\' This novel offers that kind of pleasure.
PanPublic BooksPopkey’s insistence on women’s desire for subjugation is misguided at best, and reactionary at worst ... Dialogue dominates; plot is sparse. It is, as Popkey has admitted, a rip-off of Rachel Cusk ... Taken on their own, some of Popkey’s observations about individual psychology are provocative, if not altogether novel ... too often, Popkey uses the idiosyncratic sexual inclinations of a few women, all of whom are from the same culture and class, to clumsily fashion a universal theory of female desire. As a result, Topics of Conversation often feels less like a novel and more like sophomoric philosophy. This is partly because despite the multiplicity of speakers, the novel is, in effect, univocal ... The contrived style isn’t just distracting and tiresome, it also flattens characters. Women in this novel don’t emerge as individuals but as indistinguishable members of a chorus with a point to make ... This should not be mistaken for feminism.
RavePublic Books... the Mennonite girls and women of Women Talking have distinctive personalities ... In their fierce, rigorous debate about practical matters, the Mennonite women contemplate profound questions ... On the topic of men, too, Toews offers a more expansive understanding of human behavior ... Toews’s decision to use August as narrator is ingenious. It constantly reminds us of the subjugation of the women—they are illiterate—and also lets us view the events through the eyes of a tremendously sensitive man who has both an insider’s knowledge and an awareness of the world outside ... Despite the unthinkable acts that men have committed, Women Talking refuses to demonize even the perpetrators ... Above all, Toews also offers a generative vision of women’s lives under patriarchy. Her female characters argue fiercely, sometimes rancorously, but their fights are underwritten by compassion and geared toward a shared purpose ... This is the feminist future we should want.