The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver – Book Review

The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver

Irina and Lawrence have been together for 10 years and have yet to get married. Most of the time that’s okay with Irina, most of the time she is happy with their traditions – or are they ruts? – but sometimes, she gets a bit fed up with it all. One year when Lawrence is going out of town, he pushes Irina to make plans with their acquaintance Ramsey for Ramsey’s birthday. Going out together on Ramsey’s birthday had been a tradition for them when he was married to Irina’s former partner Judith, but Lawrence had always got on better with Ramsey – a professional snooker player – than Irina had. Now that Irina is no longer partners with Judith and Ramsey is single, Judith thinks things might be a bit awkward. Throw in Lawrence not being able to come along as a buffer, and she is incredibly hesitant to make dinner plans with Ramsey, but she is eventually convinced to do so. While at dinner, Irina starts to feel something for Ramsey, a hint of desire. When they return to his flat for drinks and some weed, she has an overwhelming urge to kiss him.

And she does. But also she doesn’t.

The majority of “The Post-Birthday World” is given over to showing what Irina’s life would be like if she kissed Ramsey, versus what her life would be like if she did not.

Shriver is not the world’s most subtle author; in fact, she nearly hits the reader over the head with her point. She’s also pretty cynical about both romantic and family relationships. Obviously no relationship is perfect, but it was somewhat depressing how rocky Irina’s relationships ended up no matter what she did. And nobody was close to their parents: Irina’s mother was overbearing and a bit crazy and Lawrence and Ramsey’s parents were both out of the picture – Lawrence’s because they were gauche and he didn’t care much for them, Ramsey’s because they disapproved of his life as a snooker player.┬áProfoundly negative attitudes about, well, everything can really turn me off in a book if the characters aren’t at least somewhat sympathetic.

Luckily, I actually did find all of these characters at least a little sympathetic, as opposed to the characters in the first Shriver book I read, who I simply couldn’t be bothered to care about. They weren’t just blithely callous, they actually did care somewhat about how what they were doing impacted one another, even if they did decide to simply do what was best for themselves anyway.

Really, though, I think what kept me fascinated by this book was the concept. I loved how Shriver had Irina go many of the same places and even have many of the same conversations in the two stories, but with different twists depending on her earlier choices and actions.

Although Shriver still occasionally bothered me with her need to hit me over the head with her dark view of most relationships, I did very much enjoy the book overall and, after reading “The Post-Birthday World” I am definitely interested in reading more of her work.

Buy this book from:
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This review was done with a book won in a contest.
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6 comments to The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver – Book Review

  • I absolutely love this book…for Shriver’s snappy prose, the ironic “predestinies”, but most of all the clever concept. It isn’t often that you find something so darned clever! I was enamoured with the idea of actually being able to see the consequences of a choice…something I think we have all wondered about. You are right, she doesn’t shine a very bright light on relationships, but the Ramsey end really touched me.

  • I have been wanting to read “Post-Birthday World” and also Lionel Shriver’s latest book “So Much For That”… But have been resisting my urge to pick it up from the library since I already have a dozen books on my ‘TBR and returned by next week’ list!! :(

    I loved your frank review about “Post-Birthday World” … with all the dark and depressing sides of relationships being portrayed in the book, am not sure if I will find it interesting but I sure wanna give the book a try.

    – Arch

  • Nice review. I agree with you about her view on relationships. Having said that, I loved this book and the one other book of Shriver’s I’ve read, “We Need to Talk About Kevin”. Thanks to a recent used booksale, I have several others on my to-be-read shelf. I love her work.

  • Interesting review! I have seen movies which, after an interesting point, develop two scenarios and show how the story might have gone if the character had done one thing instead of the other. Interesting to know that Shriver adopts the same technique in this book. I also thought that ‘Lionel’ is a man’s name – interesting to know that the author is a lady.

    It is amazing that you are able to read and post a few book reviews these past few days and also attend the BEA!

  • I have to admit: I’m a Shriver fan. And I’m still not really sure why. I’ve read this one and We Need To Talk About Kevin. She’s pretty dark and clearly doesn’t have a positive view on human nature. Still, her IDEAS!!

    The concept of this book is fabulous, and it’s what made me pick it up. I’ve had a couple of moments where I knew the choice I made would change my life. It’s interesting to be able to explore both roads here.

    Thanks for the thoughtful review. Hope you’re having a fabulous time at BEA.

  • Shriver definitely has dark views about a lot of things–makes you wonder about the life she has lead!