Summary and book reviews of The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver

The Post-Birthday World

By Lionel Shriver

The Post-Birthday World
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  • Hardcover: Mar 2007,
    528 pages.
    Paperback: Mar 2008,
    528 pages.

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About this Book

Book Summary

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.

Chapter One

What began as coincidence had crystallized into tradition: on the sixth of July, they would have dinner with Ramsey Acton on his birthday.

Five years earlier, Irina had been collaborating with Ramsey's then-wife, Jude Hartford, on a children's book. Jude had made social overtures. Abjuring the airy we-really-must-get-together-sometime feints common to London, which can carry on indefinitely without threatening to clutter your diary with a real time and place, Jude had seemed driven to nail down a foursome so that her illustrator could meet her husband, Ramsey. Or, no—she'd said, "My husband, Ramsey Acton." The locution had stood out. Irina assumed that Jude was prideful in that wearing feminist way about the fact that she'd not taken her husband's surname.

But then, it is always difficult to impress the ignorant. When negotiating with Lawrence over the prospective dinner back in 1992, Irina didn't know enough to mention, "Believe it or not, Jude's married...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
About This Book

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 ...
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Reviews

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To Shriver's credit, even though both men are in many ways polar opposites, they are never presented as simply right or wrong for Irena, let alone good or bad people in themselves. Both love Irena intensely, both mean well at heart and both are honorable if flawed men - and neither are quite the men that Irena thinks them to be.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (1232 words).

Media Reviews
The New York Times - Julia Scheeres

Shriver puts more effort into describing a rhubarb-cream pie than explaining Ramsey’s appeal .... Her prose can also grate ..... Shriver stumbles across provocative themes — the private erotic fantasies of long-time lovers, unplanned pregnancy in middle age, the sexuality of anger — but doesn’t dwell on them long enough to enliven her characters or her story ... 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 Boston Globe - Chris Bohjalian

[W]hile 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.

The Seattle Times - Robert Allen Papinchak

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. Replaying whole scenes with slight changes is like listening to a symphony's variations on a theme.

Cleveland Plain Dealer - Vikas Turakhia

At first, these dueling stories start off as a gimmicky game of opposites; but Shriver is sure-footed as she moves the reader along Irina's dual trajectories ....But as Irina ends up in much the same place despite her choices, the reader is left to wonder if her decisions - and Shriver's well-written story - matter much at all.

Entertainment Weekly - Jennifer Reese

Shriver teases out a knotty set of questions: Does happiness reside in everyday contentment or passionate connection? How important is sex? By the same token, how important are shared values? The novel will provide juicy fodder for animated book-club conversation. A.

The New York Times - Michiko Kakutani

Although the decision to depict Ramsey and Lawrence as such polar opposites makes for a schematic story line, this flaw is steamrollered by Ms. Shriver’s instinctive knowledge of her heroine’s heart and mind and her ability to limn Irina’s very different relationships with these two men. Relying on the same gift for psychological portraiture that she used in her award-winning 2003 novel, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Ms. Shriver makes palpable both Irina’s magnetic attraction to Ramsey and the ease and comfort she feels with Lawrence.

The Daily News - Sherryl Connelly

Certainly one of the questions posed in this stunningly intense novel is whether it is better to betray or be betrayed? Another asks, for whom?

Publishers Weekly

With Jamesian patience, Shriver explores snooker tournaments and terrorism conferences, passionate lovemaking and passionless sex, and teases out her themes of ambition, self-recrimination and longing. The result is an impressive if exhausting novel.

Booklist - Debi Lewis

This novel is ostensibly formulaic, but the details and the solid writing make it ultimately enjoyable.

Library Journal - Barbara Hoffert

Sometimes one story is more engaging than the other, but the two versions are seamlessly knit, and in the end both are convincing and beautifully told. Highly recommended.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Better yet, the author is more interested in raising questions about love and fidelity than in pat moralizing. Readers will wonder which choice was best for Irena, but Shriver masterfully confounds any attempt to arrive at a sure answer.

Reader Reviews
Elyse

Not for Everybody
I barely got through 3 chapters of this book before deciding it wasn't for me. I just didn't buy the protaganist's actions, nor her husband's. It was a book I was doubtful of from the beginning, but I saw it at my library and decided to give it a try...   Read More

Jennifer

Incredible Technique!
As a story, this book is okay (twice). It was not the kind of book I "couldn't put down" until the last few chapters, when I absolutely HAD to know how things were going to turn out in each universe. For a while, I'd think one life was better; then I...   Read More

Wayne of Canberra

Ho-hum
The Post Birthday World could have been a mildly entertaining short story if, say, you had nothing else to read in the house, but 517 pages? Shriver's prose is like the smarty-pants kid in the class who has just learned all these big words and doesn...   Read More

Jenny

What If?
The plot of this novel is a love triangle where book illustrator Irina leaves her defacto husband, the reliable but dull Lawrence, for the sexy, handsome snooker champion Ramsey. That is one option however as what we have is a parallel universe where...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Journalist and author Lionel Shriver was born Margaret Ann Shriver in 1957 in North Carolina, USA. She changed her name to Lionel at the age of 15 because she wanted to distance herself from the "girl with the pink ribbons in her hair, who married her high-school sweetheart and became an apple-cheeked housewife", that she felt was implied by the name Margaret Ann and the expectations of her family.

She received a BA and MFA from Columbia University and, since then, has lived in Nairobi, Bangkok, Belfast and London.

Her first novel, The Female of the ...

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