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The Post-birthday World by Lionel Shriver

The Post-birthday World (original 2007; edition 2007)

by Lionel Shriver

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1,544537,111 (3.58)62
Title:The Post-birthday World
Authors:Lionel Shriver
Info:HarperCollins Publishers Ltd (2007), Hardcover
Collections:Your library

Work details

The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver (2007)

  1. 50
    The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (citygirl)
    citygirl: Each offers a love story from an unusual perspective.
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    Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (amysisson)
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    My Real Children by Jo Walton (amysisson)
    amysisson: In both of these books, a single moment and decision can take a life in two completely different directions.
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    Sliding Doors [1998 film] by Peter Howitt (infiniteletters)

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Showing 1-5 of 52 (next | show all)
The book, I found, has a tendency to lean towards the gimmicky. Instead of fully exploring two divergent, independent universes, the narrative is limited to a kind of bizarro, mirror universe. If Irina has hot sex in one timeline, then she has tepid sex in the second one. If she starts an argument, then the reverse universe sees her mediating an argument. If Irina becomes passionate and free-wheeling with one lover, then she turns into the exact and line-point opposite with the other: prudish and chained to her relationship. It becomes predictable, after a while. I knew exactly what was coming; there were no surprises, and it left me with the very distinct impression that I was reading a book, rather than getting lost with the characters in their world.

However, where the book does excel, is at portraying human relationships. Anyone who has been in more than one intimate relationship will recognize themselves in Irina's interactions with her boyfriends. The question of who Irina is better with - the shy Lawrence or the exciting, sexually magnetic Ramsey - has a universal quality to it: hasn't everyone thought...what if? Though I am happy with my significant other, I'll be honest: I've thought, on occasion, about some of my ex-boyfriends, and where I might be now if we'd stayed together. The book offers a tantalizing glimpse, a rare resolution to that what-if question. It may be a bit gimmicky in spots, but the real treat here is the writing style and the heartbreaking relationships between Irina and her (would be) lovers. ( )
  the_baroness | Jul 12, 2018 |
I don't know why I haven't read another of Shriver's books since loving We Need to Talk About Kevin. I'd forgotten what an insightful author she is with characterisation.

The premise behind this novel isn't new - akin to the Sliding Doors movie and more than a few novels, the book hinges around the two different lives the protagonist goes on to lead following a pivotal fork in the road moment. Irina, a children's illustrator, lives with her intellectual steady Eddy partner who is part of an important political think tank. Through Irina's work the couple become friends with an author and her husband Ramsay, a famous East End snooker player. Circumstances eventually collide to create a situation where Irina ends up having to take Ramsay out for his birthday by herself, and an unexpected frisson of sexual chemistry creates an out-of-the-blue do I / don't I decision point with this man who is the complete antithesis of her partner Lawrence in every way. Is passion, and with it the extreme lows that inevitably come as well as the euphoric highs, worth more than a steady but unexciting life of anticipated security and steadfastness?

This novel hooked me from the beginning. I initially questioned why Shriver had written a chick lit type romance book, but the more I got into it the cleverer it became. As a reader we get to see her live out similar events through the two opposing life paths, neither of which turn out out as she had expected. It's a clever interpretation of how the grass always looks greener from the other side, with Irina constantly questioning the other life choice she could have taken, and thinking it would have been something very different to actually how we see it pan out. Life never turns out as you expect it, and in Irina's world people are not necessarily who you thought they were.

A thoroughly enjoyable read, I lost myself in this novel for hours this weekend. It's not perfect - for one I hate the title, and the cover is most definitely chick lit. More annoyingly, Shriver often misses the mark quite considerably with Ramsay's Cockney dialogue, confusing Northern colloquial sayings for Cockney slang and using phrases more at home in the old film adaptation of Oliver or the Carry On films than on the real streets of the East End. Having said that, Shriver portrays the two opposing romantic relationships and the complexities of leaving a relationship but still emotionally hanging on to part of it very cleverly. A tale of romance it may be, but romance from the twin perspectives of outside in and inside out.

4.5 stars - the critics may have panned it, but for me this was a great read. ( )
2 vote AlisonY | Feb 4, 2018 |
Irina and her partner, Lawrence, have slowly developed the tradition of having dinner with snooker star Ramsey Acton and his wife, Jude, every year on Ramsey's birthday. Even after Ramsey's divorce from Jude, the tradition continues even though Jude was the person that connected them. But one year, Lawrence is away on the usual date. As a snooker fan he's unwilling to let the connection go and so he pushes Irina to have dinner with Ramsey solo. On that fateful evening Irina finds herself with a rogue impulse to kiss Ramsey. What will happen if she gives in to the impulse or if she remains true to Lawrence?

The friend who recommended this novel to me got me to pick it up by comparing it to the film Sliding Doors (highly underrated flick). The novel takes a parallel universe approach exploring what becomes of Irina when she makes the choice to kiss Ramsey and when she refrains. In alternating chapters we see how Irina's life unfolds with all its differences and strange parallels. There's a lot of fun in seeing how Shriver plays with the two timelines and uses them to comment on each other. While the novel is worth picking up just to enjoy the narrative structure, the prose itself is beautiful. A fascinating exploration of how our choices make us who we are. ( )
  MickyFine | Dec 27, 2016 |
Could a single kiss change your life?

No, not for Sleeping Beauty, but for Irina Galina McGovern a children’s book illustrator living with her long-time boyfriend in London. Much is made of the fact that after 9 years she and Lawrence have not married. They have a mutual friend, Ramsey Acton and his wife Jude and on Ramsey’s birthday the couples have gone out to dinner. No one particularly has a good time, but the tradition remains even after Jude and Ramsey divorce (and Jude and Irina have a huge fight themselves). One year, Lawrence is out of town and encourages Irina to go out with Ramsey solo. After too much to drink they repair to his house for a wee joint. There, over the snooker table, comes the kiss.

Or does it? Shriver presents us with two alternatives; yes they kiss, no they don’t. Each chapter covers one particular scenario (with shaded or unshaded chapter number colophons to go with, a device used a bit cleverly for the last chapter). The same basic events occur in each scenario only in a lot of cases they are completely reversed. One person starts a particular fight and takes a particular side, in the other timeline those words are in the other person’s mouth. There are incidents, setbacks and triumphs; all standing opposite each other.

For the most part it works. I was quite interested in seeing how Shriver could spin the same argument for different sides. The writing is very strong and there are some good insights and the characterizations are all sharp and, at least for me, believable. If you pay attention though, some of the things that take place aren’t surprises if you can deduce the opposite from what came before. And truthfully I got tired of all the fighting; Irina v. Ramsey and Irina v. mom. I almost skimmed the Christmas scenes with her family in Brighton Beach. But it passed and things came to a head. It wraps with a bit more optimism than is warranted given how much of a downer a lot of the book is, but I guess Irina could use a break. ( )
  Bookmarque | Sep 24, 2016 |
(21) I may have found a new favorite author. I loved 'We Need to Talk About Kevin" despite its brutality and I indeed loved this novel as well. Not quite as much, but still thought the writing was fantastic. Irina McGovern is an Americal children's book illustrator living in London with her long-term American boyfriend and one night goes out for dinner with an acquaintance on his birthday and feels an unbearable suden attraction for the man. The man is a dashing older Brit who is a famous snooker player (a form of billiards, that - apparently amazingly popular in the UK - who knew?) who is a friend of her boyfriend Lawrence. The book follows two parrallell stories thereafter - one a story of what happens if she resisits the temptation to kiss him and remains faithful. The other, if she gives in to temptation. And it is just so well-written and compulsively readable.

As I remember from 'Kevin,' Shrivers prose is so ascerbic, witty, insightful in regards to human nature and she is a great story-teller. No melodrama; but definitely keen dramatic tension. She describes so well what it is like to have a companionable but boring stable relationship versus and exciting, passion-filled, conflict-ridden one and that wry sensation of always wanting what you don't have. She deftly characterizes Irina, Lawrence, and Ramsey especially - I could so picture them and hear them in my mind. I thought the story arc with the eerie parallell dialogue was brilliant and played out realistically. Shriver is so cynical and irreverent in many ways, I just love it.

A half-star off only because I hate all the f-bombs and talking about the details of the sexual act. I am prudish by nature and this is not typically the type of book that would appeal to me, but the writing was just so good and ironical that I forgave all that. I think it should be about time for her to come out with something new and I will be first in line. ( )
  jhowell | Jul 7, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 52 (next | show all)
There's a sense of events playing out in neat, parallel tracks, as if predetermined - which you might want them to do, under certain circumstances. But a bit of chaos is much more fun, both in life and in fiction.
In alternating chapters, Shriver allows her heroine both futures, and the result is a playful, psychologically acute, and luxuriously textured meditation on the nature of love.
added by DieFledermaus | editThe New Yorker (Apr 2, 2007)
It's a tantalizing endeavor that often includes a great deal of repetitive detail. In lesser hands, this technique would fail. But Shriver's adept, simultaneous narratives rarely stumble.
Shriver’s previous novel, “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” won Britain’s Orange Prize in 2005. That book — featuring a teenage boy who brings a crossbow to school and kills his classmates — was a riveting, carefully considered meditation on maternal ambivalence. But she seems to have rushed out this new book, churning through tired themes of infidelity and regret without offering fresh insight or even an entertaining story. “The Post-Birthday World” will only leave readers feeling snookered.
In the case of Lionel Shriver’s engaging new novel, “The Post-Birthday World,” Irina McGovern discovers herself torn between two men: her serious, responsible and boring partner, Lawrence, a self-made intellectual who works at a London think tank; and their mutual friend Ramsey, a world class snooker player, who is romantic, charming and self-absorbed. In alternating chapters, Ms. Shriver lays out Irina’s two futures: one in which she stays with Lawrence, and one in which she leaves to marry Ramsey. Neither plot ends the way the reader — or Irina — might expect.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061187844, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:05:51 -0400)

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"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."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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