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The Post-birthday World - Lionel Shriver

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Genre: Fiction / Author: Lionel Shriver / Paperback / 608 Pages / Book is published 2008-04-01 by Harper

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    5 Reviews
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      04.10.2011 00:20

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      A slightly strange but equally enjoyable tale

      The first thing which needs to be said about this book is that it is NOT 'We need to talk about Kevin'. It addresses the same basic idea, the 'what if?' question, but is far more light hearted and trivial. Which is not to say that it is always easy to read, Shriver pays such minute attention to detail that it can sometimes be frustrating. However, it is her observation of the dullities of life that makes for such a great contrast with other events in the story.
      Basically, this is a theme which has been explored often in fiction - how one event at the crossroads of life can have a dramatic effect on the rest of it. In this case we follow Irina through two parallel futures, each of them decided by whether or not she kisses another man (and one who is poles apart from her long term partner). One future takes her into the world of an emotionally unreliable, but excitingly bad boy, snooker player, and the other leaves her continuing in her relationship with the stable, comfortable Lawrence (who is also ever so slightly dull). However, a few twists soon leave you wondering whether there is ever really a better choice for her to have made, both have their consequences!

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      18.06.2010 13:08
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      Only for real fans

      I got this book from readitswapit as I had read "We Need to Talk about Kevin" by the same author and absolutely loved it.

      So it is safe to say I had very high hopes for this book.

      What is it about?
      Irina -our heroine is a forty something lady happily living with Lawrence her partner of 10 years. They are happy but although he calls her his wife they have never married. Now this put me on edge with him straight away as sorry blokes but you have no right to do that - no ring no wife! but I digress!

      The book starts out with Irina going out to dinner with Ramsey Acton a professional snooker player and long term friend of her's and Lawrence. They have a tradition of going out for his birthday but this year she goes alone with Ramsey to celebrate.

      At the end of the first chapter Irina is tempted to kiss Ramsey. Here the book splits and from this chapter there are two chapter two, two chapter threes etc. Only at the end of the book does the story come together again.

      If anyone has seen Sliding Doors the book structure is very similar to that!

      In "alternative one" Irina does kiss Ramsey and her life moves on following this.

      In "alternative two" she does not give in to temptation and her life is different.

      In both alternatives the same events are described throughout the book, just with different outcomes and actions by the characters (hope that makes sense).

      Main characters
      Irina - part Russian, part UK, part American - she is beautiful and settled into a domestic routine. Working as an illustrator of childrens books she is a caring and interesting character. AS the two plots unfold her life, relationships, and career take on very different paths and it is interesting to see the development of her as a character.

      Lawrence - her long term partner who works in News Journalism focussing on serious matters such as terrorism. He is very comfortable with Irina and his life is very different in the two stories.

      Ramsey - a professional snooker player who has got to six finals of the world championship when we meet him but never won! Totally contrasting in character to Lawrence it is interesting to see how he develops as a character in the two stories.

      What did I think?
      Well this book is over 400 pages long and I proud to say that I stuck with it and finished it. BUT I have to confess that for the first 200 pages I could not have cared less about what happened. From page 206 onwards I was gripped and really wanted to know what happened.

      I have struggled to put my finger on why that was and think that Shriver just develops the story too slowly. For me, not enough happens in the early part of the novel - we have the kiss or we dont and then the story kind of meanders around for a couple of hundred pages. Then things really start to happen and I started to care about the characters.

      For the last 150 pages I was gripped and felt that the story was touching and interesting. I liked the character development in the latter part of the book but again, in the early part found the development just too slow.

      Overall I would recommend this if you are a massive fan of Shriver or loved Sliding Doors. Although I loved the end I had to force myself to read it.

      A novel which warms up very slowly!

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        22.05.2010 15:53
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        Recommended!

        I picked up 'The post-birthday world' written by Lionel Shriver from my local library. I have just finished reading it and will start off by saying that I really enjoyed it, as it was different and unique!

        The main character of this book is Irina McGovern, a woman in her early forties. She has been in a relationship with a man called Lawrence for approximately 10 years. They are not married, but do live together. They have no children, but every part of domesticated life is shared between them. Lawrence is a dependable man, one she can rely on and feels she can trust. In every relationship, things are bound to be a certain way eventually, especially after 10 years. But they love each other and are companions. One night however, Irina is faced with the possibility of her life taking another direction altogether - one where she leaves the reliability of Lawrence for another man, Ramsey, who is passionate, spontaneous and lustful. From this point (which is at the end of the first Chapter), we see how Irina's life pans out, depending on whether she stays with Lawrence, or chooses to be with Ramsey.

        I found the idea behind this book simply brilliant. I think in life we all wonder how our lives might be if we'd made certain decisions differently. In this book, we get to see Irina's life if she stays with Lawrence, and the pros and cons of her doing so. But in an almost parallel universe we can see how life is if she leaves Lawrence.

        I think sometimes, if not always, the grass is always greener on the other side. But in this book, Lionel Shriver demonstrates that whatever path you do decide to take, there are always going to be ups and downs - no single path is perfect, and we sometimes forget that when things are not so great in our lives. This aspect of the book really made me think about my own life and decisions I have made. It makes me realise that I mustn't dwell too much on things I did or didn't do, because no single decision can necessarily be the right one.

        The characters of the book were very believable. Irina is a fairly successful woman who by profession is an illustrator. However, the one thing she desires more than anything in life is a healthy love-life and a partner whom she can love and be able to depend on. This is interesting because these days we are surrounded by many successful career-women, but perhaps deep-down the most important thing to a lot of these women (and indeed men) is that they have a partner to love and be loved by. Irina admits that this is something which she doesn't like saying out loud, because it might make her seem 'weak'. Her two love interests in the book (although separate as they are love interests in parallel worlds) are in many ways stereotypes of men that women often think of i.e. the dependable man versus the exciting man. Whilst Lawrence and Ramsey are somewhat stereotypes they are still characters of their own, but it is definitely Irina who is the main character here.

        The way the book is written is also great. The structure first of all is simple for a book that has the potential to be quite confusing. Lionel Shriver keeps is simple by allocating a single Chapter at the start to Irina's life with Lawrence and builds it up to the moment in which her decision leads her life to take a different direction (with Ramsey). Each Chapter which follows are parallels, so we have two Chapter 2s, two Chapter 3s and so on until the end. One each for Lawrence and Ramsey and therefore this allows us, the readers, to see how her life could have been depending on what Irina chose.

        Well, to sum up I would say I found this book really refreshing. I liked the fact that Lionel Shriver attempted to do something a bit different. It was brave, as it could have gone wrong and been quite confusing. But I don't think it was. I think it works and flows well and I would highly recommend this book to anyone!

        Thanks for reading.

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          17.09.2009 19:57
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          An engrossing relationship drama

          The protagonist of The Post Birthday World is Irina. She is half-Russian, half-American and a former translator working as a moderately successfully children's book author. She is a long term relationship with Lawrence, who works in 'nation building' (??) and finds himself embroiled in real-life political events. He is intelligent but predictable.

          Through a former work colleague of Irina they make friends with a hard-living, handsome, formerly womanising celebrity snooker player named Ramsey. Ramsey has the none too auspicious notoriety of always coming runner up in major competitions. It becomes a habit that the couple invite Ramsey out for a meal to celebrate his birthday. One year however, Lawrence is out of the country and encourages Irina to meet up with Ramsey on her own. The evening begins awkwardly but after a few drinks the two of them are back at Ramsey's house where intoxicated Irina finds herself with the urge to kiss him....

          This is essentially the plot of the first chapter.

          From here the story splits into two halves. In the first, she kisses him and in the second, she doesn't. In alternating chapters each story is followed to its natural conclusion. The impact on all of the characters is assessed, all flawed in their different ways. However it is all seen through Irina's eyes. Ultimately the choice that Irina makes an impact on the careers of the three of them as well as their health, wealth and wellbeing! Shriver does not shy away from the mundanities of real life in helping to flesh out characters and it is interesting to see how these are impacted upon - in particular Irina has a habit with Lawrence of preparing a bowl of popcorn prior to their evening meal, this motif runs through the whole book.

          Despite the seemingly complicated setup, this is actually an engrossing relationship drama with incredibly well sculpted and believable characters. The most interesting thing about it is that Shriver invites the reader to ask themselves which decision was the correct one. This is not stratightforward as each story reflects significant ups and downs in their lives. The conclusion is especially effective both in the aims of each particular story but as a reflection on the novel as a whole. The ending contains no great dramatic revelations or scenes, rather a sense of natural conclusion.

          The tone of the novel is distinctly unsentimental; ultimately it is about people acting how they see fit when the time is appropriate. The dialogue is really believable, particularly in the marked difference between the way that Irina and Lawrence speak to each other with their own inflections as being long term partners, and Irina and Ramsey as would-be lusty lovers.

          It is not a light read, but then nothing that Shriver does is. But it has some interesting ideas referencing to split second decisions and how they can permeate every aspect of your life. It feels honest and worthy without being pretentious or lecturing. Shriver writes in such a way that does not guide the reader too far down a particular path, it is all rather matter-of-fact.

          Ultimately, I really enjoyed this book; it has an interesting premise which is excellently executed.

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            05.12.2008 13:04
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            Interesting & unusual - but cut the waffle in places!!

            If you have read my Top Ten Reads then you will know that one of my favourite books of all time is "We Need to Talk About Kevin." I couldn't stop thinking about it for a while after such is the impact it had on me.

            It was a massive disappointment when I read Shriver's second novel, "Double Fault " as all of the worst aspects of "We Need To Talk About Kevin " (Shriver tends to waffle on about something for pages at a time, and instead of being interesting I always found myself skimming them to get back to the story) were present but ten times worse and the story just didn't live up to the excitement of her first. I have to say that I absolutely hated it. I had no further desire to to read anymore books by Shriver.

            However, I recommended a book to my producer at work who absolutely loved it (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo of course!) and to return the favour, she recommended this - she said it was really good...so, I thought I'd give Shriver one last shot!

            Story
            ======

            In a similar vein to the movie "Sliding Doors" with Gwyneth Paltrow, this is a story about how one action could change a life completely.

            In this book we see the consequences of what happens when one moment could change everything for Irina McGovern. Irina has been with her partner Lawrence for ten years and believes she is happy in her relationship. One night Irina is left alone with a friends ex - husband, Ramsey Acton and the desire to kiss Ramsey is overwhelming. Throughout this book we see what happens if Irina gives in to temptation and running parallel, what happens if she controls her feelings and carried on her life with Lawrence.
            This book flits from one outcome to the other showing what effect it would have.........

            My Thoughts
            ============

            Shriver's main skill, proven once again by the characters in this book, is that she develops her characters perfectly. We see their thought processes and what makes them tick and after reading about several dreary and uninteresting characters lately, I for once understood the main character perfectly. This character development really did draw me into the book - after all, the story is about human reactions so I was intrigued from the moment of the would/would not be kiss how her futures would pan out.

            Unfortunately and in a similar vein to "We Need to Talk About Kevin", Shriver has a tendency to overdo descriptions and go off on rants, which although might have something to do with the characters state of mind or a bit of action in the book, are quite honestly a bit tedious. There is a certain point where I understand what she is trying to get at at explaining an action or feeling, but then Shriver does tend to go on too long and spoil everything. Once again I ended up skim reading large sections of the book. This is a real shame as the premise of the story (like her debut) is fantastic. Many books tackle the effects of an affair/coming close to an affair in books but the fact that this book splits what would happen either way makes it very interesting indeed.

            The main focus of the two futures is between the two men who have Irina's heart, Ramsey and Lawrence. The portrayal of Ramsey is almost the exact opposite of Irina's partner Lawrence, who is in fact a huge fan of Ramsey and his snooker career. Where Lawrence is intelligent, Ramsey is more street smart, (although that is putting things kindly!) Lawrence is loving but not intimate, Ramsey is extremely tactile and sensual, Lawrence more cautious with money, Ramsey carefree and/or careless with it. All of the contrasting traits means that we see Irina's life with the stable but predictable Lawrence and we also see what happens if she succumbed to the loveable rogue that is Ramsey which makes for enjoyable reading.

            The two futures are separated well, easily distinguishable by alternating chapters. Often, we are referred back to an incident - for instance Princess Diana's death - that means we know what future we are in. We then see the different reactions that Irina has during big events in her life which is really interesting as quite often Irina's reactions to things are completely opposite and seem to show huge differences in her character. Again this relates back to how one event changes everything in someones life.

            This constant returning to events should really be tedious repetitive, but instead I just found it thoroughly interesting to see how things would have played out in different circumstances.
            Like "We Need to Talk About Kevin", the author once again urges the reader to think about cause and reaction - in "Kevin" I found myself asking what the cause of Kevins behaviour was - nature vs. nurture, and similarly, in this book I quite often found myself wondering which future was best for Irina - with Lawrence or with Ramsey. The answer is fairly ambiguous for the majority of "The Post Birthday World" as well as "Kevin" and leaves the reader to make its own conclusions rather than forcing the authors truth down your throat. A writing trait that I enjoyed immensely in "Kevin" and one that was again stimulating in this one. There is even a part of the book that sums up this theory of there not being a clear path that is better than the other. Irina is a childrens book illustrator, and three quarters of the way through the book in her future with Ramsey, she writes a story about a boy who has two alternative futures - one where he is a world class snooker player, and one where he gives up his passion for snooker at an early ages and pursues something more academic. In both endings, the boy is happy with his life but still thinks about what would have happened if he had chosen the other path.

            Irina explains the "point" of having two stories to Ramsey: " The idea is that you don't have only one destiny.......But whichever direction you go, there are going to be upsides and downsides....There are varying advantages and disadvantages to each competing future. But I didn't want to have one bad future and one good. In both, everything is all right, really. Everything is all right."

            I think this sums up "The Post Birthday World" perfectly. Is everything all right in Irina's futures and did she make the right decision? I know what my answer would be - and it is echoed in her final words, but I'll leave you to see what you thought if you fancy reading it yourself! I don't know if it is something I would recommend someone reading - I felt like it took a lot of patience to get through this and its hard to fully enjoy a book where you end up skimming large sections. I think in general Shriver's styel of writing is not for me - it would take a hell of a good report on any future books to make me pick up another of hers as generally it is another book I was relieved to have gotten through.

            However, for the most part, I enjoyed reading it and the premise of the book is unique enough to make you think about your own cause and effect situations...what would happen if I chose to do certain things differently in life....? It's a very interesting question indeed!

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