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In this eagerly awaited new novel Lionel Shriver the Orange Prize winning author of the international bestseller We Need to Talk About Kevin delivers an imaginative and entertaining look at the implications large and small of whom we choose to love Using a playful parallel universe structure The Post Birthday World follows one woman's future as it unfolds under the influence of two drastically different menChildren's book illustrator Irina McGovern enjoys a uiet and settled life in London with her partner fellow American expatriate Lawrence Trainer a smart loyal disciplined intellectual at a prestigious think tank To their small circle of friends their relationship is rock solid Until the night Irina unaccountably finds herself dying to kiss another man their old friend from South London the stylish extravagant passionate top ranking snooker player Ramsey Acton The decision to give in to temptation will have conseuences for her career her relationships with family and friends and perhaps most importantly the texture of her daily lifeHinging on a single kiss this enchanting work of fiction depicts Irina's alternating futures with two men temperamentally worlds apart yet eually honorable With which true love Irina is better off is neither obvious nor easy to determine but Shriver's exploration of the two destinies is memorable and gripping Poignant and deeply honest written with the subtlety and wit that are the hallmarks of Shriver's work The Post Birthday World appeals to the what if in us alljacket

10 thoughts on “The Post Birthday World

  1. says:

    Great Premise with Unlikable Results Being a fan of Lionel Shriver's previous novel We Need to Talk about Kevin I was thrilled to find that she had a new novel out I was even intrigued by the novel's beguiling plot Irina McGovern a forty something ex pat living in London finds herself at a crossroads and the novel proceeds in two separate directions Irina has been in an almost ten year relationship with Lawrence Trainer that has settled into a comfortable if stultifying groove He's sturdy reliable intelligent and reasonably attractive but he's also stubborn judgmental strict and their relationship has become exceptionally passionless He won't even marry Irina because he's against marriage Enter Ramsey Acton a beguiling pro Snooker player that is Lawrence's polar opposite smoldering to Lawrence's blandness passionate to Lawrence's stoicism daring where Lawrence is cautious And here lies the predicament that Irina finds herself in after being left alone with Ramsey for his annual birthday dinner give in to fiery passionate temptation or remain loyal to the tried and true life she has grown accustomed to Thus in storyline 'A' Irina gives in to temptation and leaves Lawrence for Ramsey while in storyline 'B' she takes smug satisfaction in her own strength of character and loyalty For a while the back and forth is uite enchanting and clever and the reader delights in Shriver's carefully concocted parallel structure But by page 300 those very same parallels that were intriguing and smart become oppressive to the plot and render it hopelessly predictable If something happens in storyline A you can rely on its counterpoint occurring in B if Irina has to act as a mediator during a public spat in A she will be the one causing the scene in B; if she receives a special something in A she will be denied it in B; and so on until the novel's ultimate counterpoint that I cannot reveal here What was so exciting at least to me about the premise of the book was the concept of exploring two different scenarios and Shriver suanders the opportunity to explore what might have been by slavishly adhering to form creating two stories that move in parallel lines instead of diverging ones Suddenly an otherwise intelligent novel becomes dull and plodding and the ultimate disappointment is that both A and B's endings are also entirely predictable since both are foreshadowed earlier on One would have easily been touching and heartfelt if you hadn't been cued to see it coming and the other might have been shocking if it hadn't been portended earlier on Shriver also has a periodic way of getting sidetracked by politics in her novel which spans roughly fifteen years starting in the 1990s and taking us to the post 911 era They are distracting and woefully out of place She takes swipes at Bill Clinton for failing to catch Osama Bin Laden and potshots at Hillary for being ambitious She decries Britain's National Healthcare system as a hackneyed operation doomed to failure She even contrives to have all of her characters in Manhattan on the eve of 911 for no real reason since ultimately the atrocity will have very little to do with the plot except to serve Shriver's purpose in analogies for the remainder of the novel which is ironic because one character opines that to reduce the scope of that tragedy to such comparatively trivial matters is surely a vain misappropriation of national tragedy But that didn't stop Shriver from doing it anyway The aforementioned political asides feel disjointed and don't belong in the plotline and ultimately neither did 911 Had it ultimately had to do with the plot it would be fine but it just pops in and then out again as suddenly as it happened It's a shame that it is becoming commonplace for such a tragic event to be used as a go to plot device in novels and while Shriver's depiction of the day is about a million times better and accurate than the shockingly offensive turn Claire Messud gave it in last year's The Emperor's Children it still feels like a cheap trick But what I really disliked about 'The Post Birthday World in the end was Shriver's sadistic treatment of Irina In both storylines she is doomed to apologize for other people's messes in addition to hers to accept a grotesuely unfair portion of the blame for every misdeed committed and to be misused and taken advantage of It comes down to the men in her life Ramsey is a brash lush whose raging temper has him emotionally abusing Irina from the beginning of their relationship Lawrence is such an unrelentingly arrogant narcissistic jerk that he smothers Irina at every turn What you would really like is for her to toss them both on the street and tell them to sod off but Shriver seems interested in antagonizing Irina than in letting her off the hook even a little bit Book clubs would have a field day with this novel because it certainly leaves itself open for debate but I can't imagine really imagine recommending it to anyone looking for a pleasurable read For that I would point them to Shriver's previous effort We Need to Talk about Kevin In that book her protagonist had some cause to be put through the wringer but it just feels degrading to watch Irina sink lower and lower

  2. says:

    You know when you express an interest in say boats and then for the next five years all anyone ever gets you has to do with boats? I'm experiencing something similar at the moment irrelevant observationI loved Shriver's other book We Need To Talk About Kevin so I was actually a bit nervous about reading this one I was convinced there was no way it could be as good as the former And to be honest I don't think it was but I still loved it It teetered on the edge of being too gimmicky for my tastes coughDaveEggerscough but overall I think it worked And I think it will strike a personal chord for anyone who's been through than one relationship It certainly did for meThe premise of the novel is the uestion what if? the protagonist is happily married to one man yet feels strangely attracted to another and one night she finds herself alone with him on his birthday and feels the overwhelming urge to kiss him Killers It was only a kiss Killers And from that point the story splits into two possibilities does she or doesn't she? It's an interesting idea one small decision can change the course of your life And how The chapters alternate between the two storylines in one Irina did kiss the other man; in the other she didn't Oddly reminiscient of the choose your own adventure books of the 80sShriver for the most part is a master at nailing human emotion into hard words Her writing always evokes for me the lines from The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock And I have known the eyes already known them allEyes that fix you in a formulated phraseIt's the kind of phrasing that makes you furrow your brow and think yes I've felt that way before except I've never been able to put it into words like that Sometimes her scenes are painful to read as a result It's been almost refreshing though since for the past few months I've been indulging in frilly sweet fantasy novels which hold a pleasure of their own but like most things work best in small dosesI was also afraid that the ending would be a typical oh look she made the rightwrong decision but it ends on a rather ambiguous note and I was left pondering whether there ever was a better choice to begin with Perhaps the message we can take from this book is not that little decisions made big changes but that no matter how big the changes seem life still muddles on with its ups and downs and perhaps in some fundamental way nothing ever does change The Post Birthday World reminded me in the end of Eternal Sunshine not because of the content exactly but because of how I think readers will react to it I think Eternal Sunshine is an absolutely brilliant movie and it makes me cry buckets but I have friends who don't really see what the fuss is all about I think it boils down to your own experience This book will definitely speak to those who've had some kind of painful relationship experience; who've ever had a moment of wondering what their lives would have been like if they had turned right instead of left

  3. says:

    Great conceptualization I always liked those Choose Your Own Adventure books but lousy execution not to mention intimation narration accentuation and punctuation This author knows not the concept of too much information Maybe I am on the prudish side but do we have to be so intimate with a character as to know all their bodily habits and functions? Cervix ≠ sexy But when I wasn't curling my lip in disgust I was banging my head against the wall in frustration and boredom If not for Jenny's positive review I would not have made it through 517 pages inside main character Irina's inane brain Her unbelievably long overly descriptive sentences creating unbelievably long chapters with thoughts and themes covered twice to create her parallel universe only to tell us things any reader could pick up from the sub text That violates my cardinal rule of pleasure reading and music listening don't bore us get to the chorus To sum up the cast of characters Irina self destructive lo ser Her boyfriend Lawrence controlling A hole Alternative lover Ramsey hot but 1 note But don't even get me started on the italics Bloody hell ON EVERY SINGLE PAGE Don't you think they no longer provide emphasis when you use them ON EVERY SINGLE PAGE? And lastly I wish I had counted how many times she used ludicrously pretentious terms like folderol postprandial mention versus use If that's how all American ex pats in London talk God save the ueen

  4. says:

    Lesson #1 Don't let your husband make money than youLesson #2 If you can't decide between two or men they're probably both wrong for you Especially if they're oh self centered assholesI hated this book from page one Halfway through I declared it to be one of the worst books I had ever read I hated the characters the characters' names the character's jobs sorry I still can't distinguish between pool and snooker the plot and the prose which is annoying and littered with a multitude of metaphors so bad they made me cringe Do you want snooker to seem classy? Then don't compare the position of the red balls to a whore's open legs Bad dialogue too 90% of this book consists of petty arguments between petty people Nothing remotely tragic or exciting happens unless you count the contrived incorporation of 911The review on the back lauds Shriver's characters OK I suppose they could have passed for well developed if the machinations weren't so obvious I get it Lawrence and Ramsey are EXACT OPPOSITES Although I was a bit attached to Lawrence for a while because he reminds me a bit of myself But while Shriver pushes the euality of the two men the story seems tipped in Ramsey's favor No matter what decision Irina would have made she would still be the same insecure boring racist self hating American tool Which reminds methe Asian? The small brown man? American cultural backwash? And yes I normally try to ignore these sort of markers but here they appeared to be just as much the property of the characters as of the narratorBut there is one saving grace I could have put down this book at any time I wanted to especially when it started making me feel homicidal as in The Corrections but frankly I was hoping for some insight And eventually there was toward the ending Most of this book is chick lit trying to pass itself off as literary fiction and failing but the ending is good It isn't the cop out I was expecting And I suppose it did strike a chord within me or perhaps force me to think about parts of my own past which I have tried to tuck away But I prefer other artistic manifestations of the same basic idea Third Eye Blind's The Background or maybe even Frame and Match the astronomer vs snooker player book Irina writes

  5. says:

    Ostensibly the classic chick lit romcom virtuous Victorian type story of the young lady who must choose between prudence security and morality vs passion and a consuming love the story does much than that and delves much deeper than the typical story of the kind would do It is tempting to compare this to Sliding Doors since the concept is the same Ie one decision later what happens in two alternate universes One she chooses to stay with her safe stable companion Lawrence the other she chooses to throw caution to the wind and have a stoned drunk kiss with a famous British snooker player BTW I freely admit I had no idea what snooker was I'm American But this is done in a much literary way It is a chick lit subject with Serious Novel writing I'm apt to compare it to an estrogen packed version of Ian McEwan's style of writing than Sliding Doors A single eventmoral dilemma that changes the life of the protagonist leading them into conseuences they never would have dreamed possible for so small a thing There were so many lines in there that just rang so true to me I undertook my normally hated practice of underlining things in a book because I couldn't bear that I didn't remember them later on That is until I got too caught up in the story to care But I'm going to put down a few that I did underline here just to give you an idea of the writingIn the version of the story where she chooses to cheat the night afterShe truly did not understand why when she had such a powerful motivation not to rock the boat she would keep being so provocative or on an evening when she was desperate not to attract close examination she would be have in an erratic irritable fashion sure to bring maximum scrutiny Did she want him to know? Maybe she was forcing him to play a parlor game like Botticelli I'm a famous person and my name begins with a scarlet A Or maybe Lawrence was supposed to play hangman on the back of a program and since he would never in a million years guess that she'd chosen F A I T H L E S S H U S S Y proceed to noose himself letter by letterThis is what the coward in Lawrence had opted for that they never kiss That they never look at each other That he see only the blurred profile of her head; that she always stare at the wall That she never be permitted to meet those imploring brown eyes and watch them get what they begged for He loved her so much that it was scary and he would no look into her eyes while they were fucking than stare into the face of the sunJust an example or two I came across randomlyShriver is sure to point out that both endings have their problems and that there is no black and white I think it depends on the personality of the reader which life they side with though the end of the book makes it pretty clear which way she feels Up until that point both futures could be eually miserable or eually happy depending on your point of view in life I love that the ending is just that a chosen ending The story goes on in both ways and you can choose which to believe draw your own morals It was particularly engrossing for someone like me who second guesses nearly all her decisions and always wonders 'what might have been'Problems with the book Shriver seems to get sidetracked with a number of digressions on subjects that she's apparently interested in but which don't seem to fit in with this book She has characters give odd rants that seem out of character and her words are just a little too fierce She is especially sanctimonious on the issue of Americans in London or abroad in general Shriver also clearly has a huge socioeconomic national and also British guilt complex There's a lot in here about what one should do and big causes of the day the book takes place between 1997 2003 largely are mentioned all over the place It is partially to make a point so I'll forgive her that but nonetheless she seems to be trying to explore her own guilty feelings and impulses on the page in places that don't really fit There's several rants about the romance of being poor for instance the possessive grief after 911 which was actually rather insightful who owned 911 after it stuff about virtuously watching the news every night and caring about the Third World Yes part of one of the characters but a bit too much for it to have been just that Also I have to admit the uality of the writing was somewhat uneven I'd say the majority of it was good but there were several spots where she left behind perfectly nuanced lovely explorations for unsubtle metaphors and heavy handed clunky expressions Overall it still worked for me though I liked it uite a bit

  6. says:

    I raced through this book because I was so engrossed by the story lines I suppose it's chick lit in the sense that women probably have an easier time relating to the story than men would but it's so much better than most chick lit garbage out there I followed this book with a true chick lit piece of crap and wanted to pull my hair out What amazed me about this book is how much is stuck with me after I was done reading it I kept thinking about the characters and the choices and the outcomes and what it all meant The characters struck me as very human in their flaws not just characters in a book so it made their stories compelling to meAs I was reading the book I vaguely remembered the movie Sliding Doors and thought about its relevance to this story I only kind of remember the movie so it wasn't much of a comparison and I think what I like better about the book is that its events unfold based on a choice made by the main character not a chance occurance beyond her control It's all about free will and choice and decisions not random circumstancesI'm frankly surprised at how many negative reviews there are on here To each his own I suppose but this book reached me at a deeper level than anything I've read in a while Perhaps I connected with Irina than other people did At the end of this book I was emotionally knackered to use a British phrase that is better at describing how I felt than any Americanism I didn't mind the length of the book and in fact was sad when it was done because I wanted to know Overall I simply got this book I suppose it's not for everyone and is perhaps most interesting to people who are in or have been in serious relationships I just loved how human it felt how real it felt

  7. says:

    I chuckle each time I skim through the goodreads reviews for Lionel Shriver books including this book to see goodreads readers giving her the old low star on account of how depressing and unlikable her characters are how there's too much detail And of course how every book besides We Need to Talk About Kevin is so disappointing because it's not just like WNTAK So yes It's true The book is lush But all of that detail functions as a kind of third plot line in the book or a unifying narrative I suppose Admittedly at first I was afraid that the repetition of small details would serve as just a gimmick or a sad attempt to unify two independent streams Then when I saw that the detail was bringing the two stories closer together I worried a bit that the repetition would be didactic But as the novel starts breathing harder and expanding from its central point and coming closer and closer together in the ways that it does those details became the guide in a sense to the complexity of the novel And yes it's true that the book can be uite sad at times You can hardly complain about that if you got here from any of Shriver's latest other books If this was your first Shriver book and you're complaining about the depressing nature of her closely drawn daily life characters well I'll give you something to complain about go read the rest of her list You got off easy this time Often Shriver's books are sad and characters unlikable because she won't let go in her examination until she gets to the core of individuals and the circumstances that put their orientations and values in place The two plot character shifts of minor characters in this novel are examples of this Irina's mother and sister for instance And Jude You may not like them but there is something behind their representation that you should know and apply to your interactions with people in the real worldThis is the fourth Lionel Shriver book I've devoured this year and I'm in awe of her range I read WNTAK first also But unlike so many other reviewers on this site each subseuent book I have read has left me increasingly impressed with Shriver's talent and skill And each one is stick to your ribs delicious

  8. says:

    Like a Sliding Doors with class this book plays out what would happen if a woman stayed with her stable responsible lover of ten years and what would happen if she left him for his irresistibly sexy volatile friend Since I constantly Sliding Doors my own life how would life be different if I moved to another city? loved a different man? chose a different career? I was fascinated to see how the author would resolve the dilemma of love vs responsibility; attraction versus lifestyle What makes this book so nuanced and compelling is that she doesn't In each of the lives that the main character chooses a sizable amount goes wrong I was riveted to the novel because the plot had all the twists and turns of real life if the main character wasn't rewarded for going with her heart as is the cliche neither was she lauded for being faithful to her original man Each choice has its rewards but as the novel plays out each life informs the other until you realize at the end that the perfect ideal compromise life you would wish for her is not only unlikely but impossible In the end the book becomes about than this man or that but about the finite possibilities of each life's existence and the tiny moments of happiness that we must grasp to survive whichever life we choose This sounds harsh but somehow in Lionel Shriver's clear eyed sharp sympathetic hands it feels strangely comforting

  9. says:

    This book utterly bored and irritated me all at the same timeThe supposed purpose of the book was to show how one seemingly small decision can drastically impact your life but that your decisions will still result in very similar parallels The moral I took from this story was essentially to dump the guy before he dumps you And that if your life is fated to be miserable it's going to be miserable no matter what you do Inspiring don't you think?The author's obsession with the finer details of snooker for 500 pages drove me to tears of boredom Her thesaurus overuse showed how desperate she was to impress although I'm not sure whom while her freuent use of British collouialisms left me wondering what exactly her characters were trying to sayMy favorite thing about the book was the protagonist's freuent references to how much she needed a man in her life to take care of her and she justified this by claiming to be fully aware of how anti feminist her statements were Because that made it completely acceptable to state how her purpose in life was to take care of a man and she didn't feel complete whenever her man was awayMy opinion I can think of a thousand ways to better spend your time than reading this

  10. says:

    here is a wonderful novel about the choices we make in love and how it affects our lives I was really blown away by this novel and recommend it to all and sundry The writing was so smart and not in an aren't I clever with pop references? way which many chick lit authors do Not that this is chick lit far from it in depth and scope Although it was hard to follow the parallel worlds at first I really got into it and was turning the pages with excitement to see what would come next I am an avid reader and have read many many books for the past 20 years and am always looking for a new voice This book really spoke to me about the nature of love commitment the pull and mystery of sex CHECK IT OUT I loved it and recommend it to any woman esp in late 20's 40s when the choices of partner one makes defines our world yet at an age where we can still think about the 'what if' factor WONDERFUL NOVEL I can see why Lionel Shriver has won awards with her writing PS Another treat for me was reading about expatriate life in London For anyone who's lived abroad or experienced the UK resonates