Alex Flinn's Reviews > The Post-Birthday World

The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver
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May 29, 09

Read in May, 2009

This book had a great premise (which about a thousand other people have fully summarized), and I was excited about reading it. Unfortunately, the execution was less great, and I ended up putting it down about halfway through.

There is a saying among writers about trying not to leave one's characters alone for too long. This is because long stretches without dialogue are deadly dull. There are certainly exceptions to this rule, but I think this was the main problem with the book. Irina was constantly alone THINKING, naval-gazing, reflecting upon life. The premise of the book is, in and of itself, thoughtful. Had the author simply presented the two story streams without too much comment, it would have been very thought-provoking. But no...this wasn't enough naval-gazing. Irina had to think and reflect on her life and her relationship with Laurence for PAGES at every turn. Even when other characters were around, the dialogue that could have happened was often summarized while Irina thought some more. Show, don't tell.

Another thing that really bothered me about the book was that Irina, the main character, was a children's book illustrator. And yet, it was fairly clear to me that the author not only holds children's book professionals in contempt; She also has no idea what they do. Every book Irina works on is stupid. The premises of some of the books (a character who can only see blue, then he meets someone who shows him red) are so idiotic that they sound like either books Madonna would write or the plot summaries used in the movie, Elf . . . which were supposed to be over-the-top and stupid. Moreover, the author seems to believe that children's book authors and illustrators get together for long stretches of time to work on the book together, that children's book authors always use the same illustrator like they're a sort of comedy team, and that it is possible for an author, even an author as stupid as Jude obviously is, to "fire" an illustrator. Didn't she research this? Doesn't Lionel Shriver have an editor? Doesn't that editor work for a publishing house which either publishes children's books also or where people KNOW someone who publishes children's books? Couldn't she ask someone? It made me wonder what other areas she hadn't researched, such as whether all Ramsey's snooker talk was entirely made up from whole cloth.

If I'd liked the rest of the book, I probably could have gotten past the previous. But, as it was, I give the author an A for a good idea, C- for execution, and F for both research and respect for her fellow industry professionals who probably wrote the books she loved as a child.
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