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The Post-Birthday World: A Novelby Lionel Shriver
Synopses & Reviews
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 men.
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. 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 all.
"Lionel Shriver's wonderful new novel, her latest since the prize-winning 'We Need to Talk About Kevin,' creates parallel universes that indulge all our what-if speculations. Spared any fork-in-the-road choices, Irina McGovern, a children's book illustrator, can have her beefcake and eat it too. A professional, independent woman not enamored of feminist bumper stickers, Irina admits, 'The only thing... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) I can't live without is a man.' In this case, Shriver grants her two. The first, Lawrence Trainer, a sweetly geeky terrorism expert, offers tranquil domesticity; Irina fixes nightly bowls of popcorn while they watch BBC snooker tournaments, cooks voluptuous if economical meals and enjoys reliable same-side-of-the-bed, same-position sex. Though not officially married, so entrenched are the pair they might as well be. 'Some friends regarded Irina-and-Lawrence as a factual matter,' Shriver writes, 'like the existence of France.' For more than nine years, 'monogamy had been effortless' — until the second man turns up. He's Ramsey Acton, dazzling celebrity snooker champion and husband of Irina's collaborator, Jude. Every year on Ramsey's birthday, Irina and Lawrence dine out with Ramsey and Jude. One July, Lawrence, away on business, encourages Irina to meet Ramsey, newly divorced, for the traditional birthday ritual. After four sakes, a deluxe platter of sashimi, cognac and a joint, Irina watches Ramsey play snooker and thinks, 'If Ramsey didn't kiss her, she was going to die.' The rest of the story pivots on this will-they-or-won't-they as the novel splits into alternating chapters; in one, they kiss; in another, she turns away. Who is Irina's Mr. Right? In excessive, often obsessive, detail, Shriver explores Irina's life with each candidate through the quotidian and across a larger political and social landscape that includes Bosnia, the death of Princess Diana and 9/11. One chapter shows Irina as too cocooned in her love nest to notice outside events; its alternate has her relate the fall of the Twin Towers to her own predicament: 'Today of all days it should have been possible to weep the whole day through, but it wasn't. The fact that she had sobbed for whole evenings at a go over the loss of one boyfriend yet now found it too demanding to whimper over the loss of multitudes for more than two or three minutes was just one of those ugly facts about herself that Irina would have to live with.' Shriver is a crackerjack chronicler of the lives of the self-absorbed; she understands the ties that bind and the ones that sunder. Studying Ramsey's depleted rooms after his divorce, Irina notes, 'For women, marriages foreclosed often resulted in an accumulation of booty; for men, these failed projects of implausible optimism were more likely to manifest themselves in material lack. It was hard to resist the metaphorical impression that women got to keep the past itself, whereas men were simply robbed of it.' Shriver is equally clever at shifting around polar opposites and mirror images. Irina's book is a success; Irina's book is a failure. Ramsey's career takes off; it hits the skids. Lawrence is always loyal — or is he? Though Ramsey can be difficult, earthmoving sex more than compensates. Soon enough, even that changes. No choice is perfect; no soul mate seizes center stage. While the focus stays on Irina and her two men, the author serves up side dishes of politics, snooker lore and menu plans. Culinary metaphors abound: Ramsey's skin is 'like one of those complex reduction sauces you get in upscale restaurants ... and you can never quite figure out what's in it.' Sentences sparkle with such mouthwatering descriptions of food that you'll want to run to the refrigerator. Lovely small portraits of Irina's larger-than-life Russian mother, her sister Tatyana and Ramsey's idiosyncratic competitors charm and enlighten. As Irina learns that no matter what kind of man a woman picks, 'she'll wonder if she wouldn't rather have the other,' the accretion of details, the parsing of characters' angst, the little moments blown into big can seem like so much navel-gazing. However fascinating, the microscopic analysis of the two objects of Irina's affection can also be wearying. Nevertheless, the rewards for sticking with these 500-plus pages are as delicious as one of Irina's feasts. Mameve Medwed's fourth novel, 'How Elizabeth Barrett Browning Saved My Life,' has just been issued in paperback." Reviewed by Benjamin ForgeyJoseph J. EllisWilliam Jelani CobbJames T. CampbellMichael DirdaRon CharlesJonathan YardleyJohn Dominic CrossanElizabeth HandRobert PinskyMameve Medwed, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"A layered and unflinching portrait of infidelity....Readers will wonder which choice was best for Irina, but Shriver masterfully confounds any attempt to arrive at a sure answer." Kirkus Reviews
"Shriver, a brilliant and versatile writer, allows these competing stories to unfold organically, each a fully rounded drama, rich with irony, ambiguity, and unforeseeable human complications. (Grade: A)" Entertainment Weekly
"Shriver's eighth novel is a piercingly funny follow-up to her tragedy-laden 2005 Orange Prize winner....One of the issues that Shriver's expansive yet intimate narrative entertains is whether Irina's love life has been reduced or multiplied by her conflicted affections. It's the good question that powers this titanically game novel." Elle
"Original and involving...convincing and beautifully told. Highly recommended." Library Journal
"That we're able to overlook the flaws of Ramsey and Lawrence is, in the end, a testament to Ms. Shriver's ability to make Irina into a thoroughly compelling character, an idiosyncratic yet recognizable heroine about whom it's impossible not to care." Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"While I was occasionally frustrated with Irina or I felt I was learning more about snooker than I wanted to know, there were other moments when I found myself riveted by The Post-Birthday World." Chris Bohjalian, The Boston Globe
"Shriver's eighth novel will attract patient readers ready for the next step after chick lit....This novel is ostensibly formulaic, but the details and the solid writing make it ultimately enjoyable." Booklist
"You can't blame Shriver for taking up with a cliche: It's a perfectly enjoyable cliche, one that ought to have delivered a slim, smart, entertaining read. The problem is, Shriver can't seem to find a tone that will let her (and us) have any fun." Newsday
"Shriver succeeds at constantly taking the pulse of the aftermath of betrayal and duplicity. The Post-Birthday World is a steamy examination of the possibilities of what might happen if you give into temptation or what might happen if you don't." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
The long-awaited new novel from the Orange Prize-winning author of We Need to Talk About Kevin is an entertaining and deeply human look at love and the choices people make.
It all hinges on one kiss. Whether Irena McGovern does or does not lean in to a specific pair of lips will determine whether she stays with her disciplined, intellectual partner Lawrence or runs off with Ramsey, a hard-living snooker player. Using a parallel universe structure, we follow Irena's life as it unfolds under the influence of two drastically different men. Where Lawrence is supportive and devoted, Ramsey is flighty and spontaneous. Lawrence is emotionally withdrawn to the point of repression; Ramsey is fiery and passionate, but volatile. The contrasts between the two men have ramifications for Irena's relationships with friends and family, for her career as an illustrator, and more importantly, for the texture of her daily life.
About the Author
Lionel Shriver is the author of We Need to Talk About Kevin, the winner of the 2005 Orange Prize. Her other books include Game Control, A Perfectly Good Family, and Double Fault. She lives in London.
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