The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver

The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver
Published by Harper Perennial, an imprint of HarperCollins

Irina McGovern is enjoying a quiet but idyllic life in London with her incredibly talented, intelligent and loyal partner of ten years, Lawrence, until one night when she finds herself faced with the possibility of kissing another man. Ramsey is everything Lawrence isn’t – brash, hilariously funny, carefree, and a famous snooker player at that – and for whatever reason, Irina is inexplicably drawn to him. The choice she makes that night will determine the course of the rest of her life, and in this novel, Shriver expertly illustrates for the reader both possible outcomes of Irina’s choice.

I’ve had The Post-Birthday World sitting on my shelf since I read and loved We Need to Talk About Kevin, so I was beyond thrilled when my book club chose to read and discuss it for our September meeting. I’m so pleased to say that I truly enjoyed the experience this book, and Shriver continues to impress me with the qualify of her writing and her ability to really make me think.

I don’t want to discuss the plot much here, because a LOT happens in this book and I must admit I wasn’t completely satisfied with every plot point. In fact, some of them downright disappointed me. However, the novel isn’t about each little plot point – it’s much bigger than that. When we were discussing this book, Sandy summed up exactly what this book is about, and I’ll try to paraphrase her here. Basically, it’s about the fact that we all have moments in our life where can make one of two choices. Maybe it’s the choice between two different jobs, or two different cities to live in, or as in Irina’s case, to cheat or not to cheat, but whatever the scenario, everyone has these moments in life. And it’s almost like the butterfly effect – one choice can have incredibly far-reaching, never-ending consequences. The Post-Birthday World explored both of Irina’s choices in detail, which is something that obviously doesn’t happen in the real world, but when it comes right down to it I’m not sure that either of Irina’s choices were better than the other. She had good and bad things happen to her in both scenarios. She had moments of total happiness and moments of complete depression in both cases.

What I thought about so much while reading this book is that in life, with these choices, Irina’s story illustrates that there’s not necessarily going to be a right or wrong path to take. Every choice we make matters, but sometimes either way can be an okay thing – it just depends on what your definition of what you want out of life is. When we were discussing this book at book club, some of us were in disagreement about which path was the “better” choice for Irina. Like I said, they both had good points and bad points and it almost comes down to what kind of life would you rather have? Really, The Post-Birthday World gave me a ton of stuff to mull over.

And Shriver’s writing is absolutely exquisite. She is unbelievably smart and clever and these qualities shine through in everything she writes. Truly, the novel was a pleasure to read. The characters, too – so incredibly well-defined, completely thought-out, to the point that they felt like real people to me. Fantastic.

I highly enjoyed The Post-Birthday World and while I didn’t love every single aspect of the plot, I can completely shrug that off given how much the book made me think and how wonderful the writing and characters were. I would definitely encourage you to pick up this novel if you haven’t already.

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8 thoughts on “The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver

  1. I loved this book as well. It was very different from Kevin, much less horrifying, but I loved the way that she fully explored the variances in Irina’s life after that fateful night. I also was not happy with some of the plot points, but the book was never boring or predictable, and I liked that. I think Sandy’s point was right on the money. There are times in life when we face a crossroads, and this book was excellent in imagining what could happen when we do the unexpected and it changes our lives. A great review. I am glad you enjoyed it so much! I have read 3 Shriver books so far, and now I want to read everything else she has out there too!

  2. This book gave me so much to think about, and even though it’s been a while since I read it, it has really stuck with me. I liked that both realities had hardships and neither one was the perfect happy ending – because real life is complicated regardless of which decision we make.

  3. I will never forget this book. It resonated with me so deeply, because really, who doesn’t think about all the forks in the road? I also love her cleverness. I have three more of her books on my shelves (and what on earth can we say about Kevin?). I need to read more of her brilliance!

  4. I haven’t read any of Shriver’s books yet. But I remember Sandy talking about how much she loved this one. I definitely want to read both this and the Kevin book (especially since that one is going to be a movie!)

  5. Lionel Shriver is my favorite author by far. I recommend her to everyone. Books are so very well written, smart, thought provoking.

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