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

The Post-Birthday World

by Lionel Shriver

The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver X
The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2007, 528 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2008, 528 pages

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About this Book

Book Summary

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.

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...continued

Full Review (1103 words).

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(Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

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.

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.

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.

Reader Reviews

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

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

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

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

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Beyond the Book

Snooker

Snooker is a very British sport, primarily played in the UK and various parts of the former colonies. The game bears some similarity to American Pool in that they both involve cues and balls, but Snooker is played on a table four times larger than the Pool table, the pockets are smaller and snooker players would say that the game is more subtle.

The essence of Snooker is to pot the balls to gain the highest score. There are fifteen red balls each worth one point and six colored balls worth from two points (yellow) to seven (black). A player's turn lasts until he fails to pot a ball, but he must alternate the potting of balls so that a red is followed by a higher-point ball, then another red, and so on.  The reds stay in the pocket, the...

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