Sunday, January 10, 2010
The Post-Birthday World
Book: The Post-Birthday World
Author: Lionel Shriver
This novel takes us into the life of Irina McGovern, a forty-something American children’s book illustrator living in London, at a time where she must make a possible life changing choice. She lives happily with her longtime loyal and intelligent, although sometimes dull, boyfriend, Lawrence. Each year, Lawrence and Irina go to dinner with a friend named Ramsey, a famous snooker player, on his birthday. This year, Lawrence is out of town on business and Irina hesitantly goes to dinner with Ramsey alone, worried they will have nothing to talk about. As the evening progresses, however, she finds herself helplessly attracted to Ramsey and has the desire to kiss him. The book continues on two alternate realities; one in which Irina gives in to her desires and one in which she resists. The chapters alternate between the two lives she leads based on the choice she made that fateful night.
I absolutely loved this book. I’m not even sure where to start because there is just so much I can praise about it.
I’ll begin with the concept itself. I loved the alternating chapters showing what happens if Irina is faithful to Lawrence and if she chooses Ramsey instead. There was no either/or, we got to see both. We all have wondered “what if?” This book lets you explore the “what if” of Irina, seeing how both futures will unfold. You never get that chance in real life, so it was such a treat to have it through the pages of this book. Each chapter had many parallels including the amount of time that was covered and events that took place, but the reader got to see them in two totally different ways. Even the dialogue from the alternating chapters was often parallel, although different characters were speaking and it was often in a completely different context. Somewhat similar to the concept of Sliding Doors, but much more clever, I thought the idea of the two futures unfolding throughout the book was nothing short of brilliant.
Next, I’ll move on to the characters. Shriver developed each character so well, showing how they reacted in many important situations, like experiencing the fall of the twin towers on 9/11, to the smaller everyday situations such as the ritual of eating popcorn before dinner every night. Although I didn’t always love all the characters, they all had their flaws, I was truly invested in them throughout the book and very much cared what would happen to them next. Shriver brings you so deep into Irina’s head that I found it impossible not to like her.
This book had me questioning which version of Irina’s life was the right one, or was there a right one. I’ve tried to ask which one would I have chosen for myself. There really is no correct answer, and that was the point of the book. There will be ups and downs no matter what choices we make. Nobody is perfect. We can say ask ourselves “what if?” but even if we had chosen a different path there is no guarantee it would be any better than the one we are on now.
There are a few nit picky things I could say about this book, but I was so impressed with it overall, that I don’t even think they are worth mentioning. This book would make a fabulous choice for any book club, as there are endless possibilities of topics to discuss. This is the second book I’ve read by Shriver, and after this one, I can’t wait to get my hands on more.
My Rating: 5/5 Stars