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Book Review: The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver (4/5)

9 Aug

I read another book by Shriver, We Need to Talk About Kevin, and found it terrifying and riveting at the same time. I found a copy of another title she wrote on the bargain shelf at Barnes and Noble and decided I needed to read it. I eventually grabbed it as an ebook that I took with me on vacation to Europe. I skipped a siesta in Spain to finish it and enjoyed the story structure immensely.

Cover image via Goodreads

The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver

Other books by Shriver reviewed on this blog:

We Need to Talk About Kevin (5/5)

Summary from Goodreads:

Children’s book illustrator Irina McGovern enjoys a quiet 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 consequences for her career, her relationships with family and friends, and perhaps most importantly the texture of her daily life.

Hinging on a single kiss, this enchanting work of fiction depicts Irina’s alternating futures with two men temperamentally worlds apart yet equally 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.

I didn’t realize it was a parallel-universe structure until I was a few chapters in. I read this book very slowly at first during my lunches at work but I got into it a lot more when I realized what was happening with the structure and even more so on my travels in Europe. It was interesting to see how the same events in Irina’s life (Christmas with her mother, snooker tournaments, world events) played out depending on which path she was on. My only disappointment in the book is that I could see how it was going to end when I was 2/3 of the way through. It was a bit of a let down when it actually happened.

I loved all of these characters. Irina was a good mix of compliant and rebellious, selfish and selfless. Both fates worked for her character. Lawrence was both intolerable and lovable, as was Ramsey. It was easy to draw similarities and stark differences between the two. Irina’s mother was a great addition to round out the cast.

Ramsey was my favorite character just because you didn’t know what he’d do next. He was volatile but I really started to love how predictable he was at the same time. His chapters were more fun to read because you knew when he was going to blow up but you had to watch it happen, which was always a joy.

I had a boyfriend in high school who Ramsey reminded me of so I could sympathize with Irina. He was jealous and pushy like Ramsey but we didn’t have the same emotional connection that Irina and Ramsey shared. It reminded me of how unhappy I was in that relationship and how unhappy Irina was at times. I wanted her to leave him but I could see how she was really happy with him at the same time. It was a tough boat to be in.

Lionel Shriver
Image via The Times

I loved the two books Irina wrote, differing depending on which man influenced her work. It was cool to see how Irina and her motivation didn’t change, though the reasons she went for the project was different. I liked how the comparative quality of the books was slightly different as well, depending on who was around her. I don’t want to give away much more!

Because I could see the end coming, it was a bit of a let down for me. I wish I could say something different because the ending was so well done, but I said what I thought to my husband and when I finished it, I was waffling between Four and Five Stars. I only went with Four because I guessed the ending.

Irina’s life was very different in the two plots but also shared a lot of similar elements. She wasn’t going to escape certain heartaches and joys. Life went on in both stories, for better or for worse. No matter the decisions we make, we can’t see the far-off consequences and we can’t say if we’ve been right or wrong with them for years. In life, there may be some decisions that are definitively bad or good, but many fall somewhere in the middle.

Writer’s Takeaway: I really enjoyed the alternating chapters and alternative universes of this book structure. I was a little confused as to what was going on at first because I didn’t read the back cover of the book, but that’s a problem I bring upon myself. I would get excited when a chapter ended and I could jump into the other world. It kept the pace of the book going strong. I’m not sure I would recommend this format because I think it could go badly, but Shriver nailed it.

This was a great book and one I really enjoyed. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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