jillian's Reviews > The Post-Birthday World

The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver
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's review
Aug 07, 07

it was amazing
bookshelves: contemporaryfiction, chicklit
Read in July, 2007

This book has a plotline that could have been so cheesy - but comes out so well. In the first chapter, mild-mannered childrens book author Irina McGovern goes on a birthday dinner with Ramsey Acton, a snooker star in London. Irina's long-term partner, Lawrence, is absent, at a conference in Sarajevo, and Ramsey's recent divorce from his wife, mean that Irina and Ramsey are alone for the first time in their history. They end up at his house, against the snooker table, and Irina either does - or does not - decide to kiss him and commit adultery.

The book unfolds from there, with each chapter written in two timelines: what would have been if Irina kissed Ramsey, and what would have been if she did not. What I found so amazing was that the characters in the book were so well defined that they still acted consistently, even in radically different timelines. That action might involve hypocrisy, as it does for the women in Irina's life that advise her against a relationship with Ramsey in one storyline, and then admire him as a handsome man when there is no consequence to it - but it is all still in character. Some of the dialogue is even the same in both worlds, albeit used in different contexts, to different people, but that just shows how well-developed the characters really are.

Of course, the same external events happen no matter what, and the crux of the book is how Irina is affected by 9/11. As an American - albeit one living in London - it affects her differently in each reality. The same snooker tournaments still take place, but depending on his relationship with Irina - or his ex-wife, Jude - Ramsey wins or loses in a spectacular success or a miserable failure. Irina writes an award nominated children's book in both storylines, which takes from her relationship with the man in her life, but in one it's a commercial success, and in the other world, it isn't.

The book also addresses one of the most important issues for every woman on the planet: security or sexual chemistry? Does Irina go for the excitement, drama, thrills and despair of Ramsey, to whom she has an insatiable sexual attraction? Or does she stay with the steady, secure, caring Lawrence? The decision she makes, and how it reflects on her self-image, the way her decision affects her self-imposed characteristics, is so far-reaching and so well-explored that it opens up both the not only the immediate good and bad aspects of each path, but the far-reaching consequences that ultimately change how Irina sees herself, and the woman that she becomes.

I thought this was a brilliantly written book, which was not only clever and engaging, but very thoughtful as well. This book showed how one decision could unleash so much inside one person as to re-shape their life - and yet bring it full circle. For, just as the first chapter applies in both storylines, the last chapter could as well.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Eric (new)

Eric Althoff This does sound like an interesting narrative device, kind of along the lines of that film "The Double Life of Veronique." Never heard of this author but I'll keep him on the radar.

Katharine Grubb I am putting this on my list of books to read! Sounds very interesting! Thanks, Jillian! kat

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