Title: The Post-Birthday World
Author: Lionel Shriver
Published In: 2007
My Rating: 2.5 on 5
I discovered Lionel Shriver when I read her most popular book We Need To Talk About Kevin. It was highly recommended by a blogger friend of mine and I was more than happy to read this book and discover a writer who could write a story with different underlying subtext. I immediately took a vow to read more of her books. Unfortunately, her The Post-Birthday World is neither as powerful, nor as interesting as the former book.
Irina McGovern, a children’s book illustrator, has a steady relationship with her partner Lawrence. They both are Americans living in London. One fine day, Irina finds herself on the verge of betrayal when she is in the company of Ramsey Acton, a popular snooker player, on the occasion of his birthday (hence the title). The book forks out here with two options – does Irina betray or doesn’t she? One thread of the book flows with the first option where Irina goes through the guilt trip and finally leaves Lawrence to marry Ramsey. She faces a different set of challenges where she has to convince Ramsey of her fidelity and put up with his eccentric ways of displaying love and claiming ownership over her. Another thread goes on parallely in which Irina remains faithful to her husband and faces hurdles and the biggest shock of her life when Lawrence cheats on her. The chapters from each thread appear alternately and some of the incidents are common to both threads and they become repetitive.
Shriver takes pity on us lesser mortals and uses comparatively simpler words in this book. We Need To Talk About Kevin had such complicated words that I had to keep a dictionary nearby and look up a word after every sentence, but fortunately this book was an easy read. Shriver creates powerful characters and this book is no exception. Irina’s character has so many layers and is so real, you could feel her guilt and her joy as if they were your own. Lawrence too is quite easy to relate to, but I found Ramsey’s character somewhat confusing. I could never make out what the character’s intentions were. Irina’s mom is another character I found amusing and interesting.
It is good to see a book using an unconventional structure and construct, but it just didn’t work for me. Many incidents and dialogues become repetitive and wear you out. In the end, when both the threads reach conclusion, you are not really sure what the message is. Is the writer trying to say no matter what option you choose, you will end up with your dose of happiness and sorrow and your choice does not really matter? Shriver does not take a stand when it comes to Irina’s choice of whether to betray or not, so I am wondering what is the message that she is trying to convey?
The book was okay while it lasted, but coming from Shriver, it was a big disappointment for me. I was expecting a similar kind of effect that We Need To Talk About Kevin had on me, but the book did not touch me at any level.