on 9 June 2008
First things first - this book isn't a sequel to We Need to Talk About Kevin. A fairly obvious point to make, but one that really does need making. Because this seems to be the expectation of many reviews that I have read. Certainly, Kevin is an amazing and poignant book, and if you haven't read it yet, then where the hell have you been? However, as a writer, Shriver has the ability to write about a wide and varied range of subject matter. This is what good writers do. If you really want to learn more on high school massacres, then rent out Bowling for Columbine.
So, if you can get Kevin out of your head for five minutes, then please turn your attention to The Post-birthday World. And this is one novel that really is deserving of your attention. In the first chapter, Irina is faced with a life changing choice: does she stick with her decent, reliable yet slightly dull long-term partner Lawrence, or does she give it all up for a life of passion and unpredictability with hard living and exciting snooker player Ramsey? The book then branches into two; in alternate chapters it shows what happens when Irina leaves Lawrence, and what happens when she stays.
The result is an entrancing read. Now, I'll be the first to admit that snooker is not the sexiest of sports. But, as with Shriver's other sports novel Double Fault, it's almost not what Shriver writes about but the way she writes about it. On paper, her subject content sounds fairly dull; snooker, middle age people falling in love, the politics of Northern Ireland. And yet she still manages to intrigue and draw the reader in, and to make them care. Plus, anyone who is able to take the dull relation of the sports world and make it sound interesting and even a little bit sexy will always get my admiration.
The Post-birthday World is also a brilliant observation on the nature of relationships and love. Are we ever really happy with what we've got; should we choose to stick or should we twist and gamble it all for something greater? And in the end, are we left with the same result anyway?
Unlike Kevin, this book won't make you gasp at the end, and it won't make you shocked or horrified. But it might make you think, and change how you look at the world just a little. Which is as good a result as any.
on 11 June 2011
Where some people find love Lionel Shriver's endless reflections on life and the relationships irritating, I love them. I found the protagonist's affection for her live-in partner Lawrence much easier to understand than I did Eva's passion for her one-dimensional husband in "We need to talk about Kevin".
Other reviewers are disgusted by Irina's tendency to live her life around her boyfriend in this book, but it's a trap that many women fall into, well illustrated by the book, as is the financial insecurity that comes from an insecure, poorly paid creative career. It's feminism for people who don't like the word "feminism".
I was very interested to learn that the author married the ex-husband of one of the now-ex-agents who rejected "We need to talk about Kevin". So that's where Jude and Ramsey came from!
However, the author's inexplicable failure to grasp British English really marred my pleasure in this book. Several times Ramsey's ridiculous, cringe-inducing speech tempted me to give up reading, and when I read about things such as going to the loo for shampoo I had to stop short and try to work out what she meant. I'm not from the UK, but it seems easy enough to understand that Britons, while they may not use the US euphemism "going to the bathroom", still call their bathrooms "bathrooms". It was very disappointing to find a writer I admire behaving like the literary equivalent of Keanu Reeves in "Dracula".
on 17 June 2014
I bought this because I really enjoyed Lionel Shriver's other novels, so not sure how she could produce something this bad. I took this book on holiday and couldn't even bear to read it to the end while sat on a sunlounger with nothing else to do. From the vapid, heroine to the ungengaging storyline (I honestly couldn't have cared less what she did with her love life) this was awful. But the most gratingly horrible thing by far was the shocking American attempt at Ramsey the snooker player's English vernacular, which was a confusing mix of Dick Van Dyke cockney and a parody of Northern colloquialisms as imagined by a patronising American academic. I don't think anybody in the North speaks like this. Or England. Or the world. And nobody quotes Snooker Loopy quite so often, and without irony. Maybe I am doing this book an injustice and it had a fantastic ending. But I am happy never to find out.
Before you spend time reading my review instead of the wonderful "The Post-Birthday world", let me tell you at the start - it's fantastic and you must rush out straight away to buy a copy. Then clear your diary till you've finished it!
The writing is accomplished, the story is compelling, but it is all the little asides, the philosophising about life that for me really takes Shriver's work out of the realm of the ordinary. Again and again while reading this book I was astounded at how she seemed to have written down - very eloquently - thoughts that have been jumbling about in my head for years. Some passages were so personally relevant to me, I felt she must have got inside my head somehow. Perhaps it's just that the theme she expounds upon is universal and perhaps many readers will feel the same way I did.
The story centres about Irina. She has been in a long-term relationship with stable, good-but-boring guy Lawrence. While Lawrence is away one night, she ends up going out for dinner with Ramsey the ex-husband of a former friend. Ramsey is a dapper, sexy, famous snooker player. They have a great night, end up going back to his house and at the end of the first chapter we find them just about to kiss.
Chapter two begins the story of what happened after the kiss. Subsequently we find there is a second chapter two which starts in a world where the kiss did not happen. The book proceeds in this fashion - two of each chapter showing what happens in each possible world.
We've all been there - wondering what would have happened if I left/didn't leave a certain partner. Would my life have been better if I opted for sexy rather than stable? Should I have abandoned security and gone for the dangerous option? If you've ever found yourself wondering what life would have been like IF ONLY ... then you have to read this book and see what happens in each of the post-birthday worlds.
The characters in the book are brilliantly drawn and achingly real. The arguments and rows are so authentic that you feel part of them. You won't find any two-dimensional stereotypes here - all the characters have their good and bad points, their strengths and flaws. There are no goodies and baddies.
Irina is much softer than the female characters in 'We Need to Talk about Kevin' and 'Double Fault' and I was really glad about this. While I loved those two books, I really wanted to see Shriver take on a more gentle character. I found Irina easier to relate to .. perhaps just because she's more like me.
I can't recommend this book highly enough. It was my best read of the year so far ... and that's saying something! Go out and get it and prepare to be absorbed!
on 3 December 2008
I loved 'we need to talk about Kevin', and I loved this as well.
Shriver writes with unflinching, and at times uncomfortable, clarity and honesty about the fragilities and failings of the human condition, and whilst at times I found this book quite depressing, I also couldn't put it down.
I loved the parallel stories of Irina and the ramifications on her and the men in her life from that tipping point decision - I've had one of those myself, not quite as clearcut as being hinged on a kiss, but I still wonder what would have happened if I'd made the other choice...
I think the best books stay with you and make you reflect on their content and even better how that applies to your own life - and as Kevin made me think about motherhood, and whether I wanted to be a mother, so this has made me think about relationships, and whether I want to be in one.
As many here have already pointed out - Ramesey's accent is a deadful muddle I have to agree, however this minor point does not detract from what is a very well-wrtten and thought-provoking novel.
As an aside I think Ramsey was the best choice for her to have made, but I am an old romantic (despite or perhaps because I have settled for a Lawrence myself)...makes you think though doesn't it? Which is the whole point!
Lionel Shriver is such a frustrating author. Rarely do I read someone who combines such utter brilliance with such a big fundamental flaw in her writing. The brilliance lies in her turn of phrase, her dry wit, her insightful observations, and her good plot ideas. Her single - but large -fault is that she overwrites to an unbearable degree. She also suffers from having written 'We Need to Talk About Kevin' - a novel of such sublime quality it is hard to imagine she will ever match it, and everything else she writes is always going to be compared to it.
This novel hinges on a good idea. The first chapter introduces the main characters. Irina, a middle aged woman in a steady relationship, is tempted to kiss her partner's best friend. Thereafter, the novel splits into two parallel threads. These are clearly divided - there are two chapter twos, two chapter threes, etc. In one thread, she goes ahead and kisses him, leading to an affair and eventual change of partner. In the other, she resists temptation and stays with her partner. The two plots are well wrought, staying close enough to allow comparison, but different enough not to repeat themselves and be dull.
The quality of her writing is good - better than good. But there is just too much of it. At over 500 pages, even brilliance becomes wearisome. For such a long novel, it doesn't have enough scope. There are only three really key characters, and whilst there are some supporting ones, they do remain very much in the background. Irina is not entirely likeable - in fact, I found her pretty annoying. And the story doesn't stray far from the domestic and ordinary. Therefore it is very intense and introspective, full of detailed analysis of emotions and thoughts. That's OK in small doses, but in this novel it is overkill.
Perhaps I'd have liked it better if I'd identified with it - but I'm a happy singleton and don't have direct experience of long term relationships. I recognise some of it from couples I know, but really it's bad enough having to listen to the marital problems of friends, without reading a huge novel of immense detail about the martial problems of fictional characters. However I can see that readers in long term relationships, particularly people in a similar position to Irina - childless, entering middle age, starting to wonder if this is it - might find all the meditation on this topic more relevant and worthwhile to read. I don't see it as a 'man's book' if such a thing exists, simply because it is so obsessed with dissecting every thought and feeling - something many men run a mile from. Even as a girl who doesn't mind a bit of emotional conversation, I found it too much here.
As mentioned, I found Irina annoying. She was never happy with what she had, and seemed to have no real identity outside of her relationship - whichever man she ended up with. Maybe that is true of some women, but I don't particularly want to read about them. I think a lot of the educated professional women who are Shriver's most likely audience (its writing style is not the most accessible) will find her attitude to life perplexing. But even more annoying than Irina was Ramsey, the unlikely lothario she shacks up with in one of the versions. His 'British' voice made Dick van Dyke's cockney accent in 'Mary Poppins' seem authentic by comparison. I am British, and no British person talks like that - a weird mish-mash of words and phrases out of a collection of regional dialects. Lionel Shriver's idea of how a 'working class British person' must talk is both laughable and insulting - any Brit reading this will find it so ridiculous it will completely undermine the contents of all sections in which he appears.
My final complaint about the book is that it is so flipping depressing. The underlying message, if there is one, seems to be that all relationships are doomed to unhappiness. In fact, my conclusion on finishing is that I'm pleased to be single. Or maybe the real message is that it's a very bad idea to shackle your entire sense of self worth and personality to a single individual. By all means, be in a relationship, but don't make it the be-all and end-all of your existence, because you may well come to regret it. I do understand Shriver's idea that there are no 'right' or 'wrong' choices, and that any course of action will have it's long term benefits and long term pitfalls, but that didn't come across here so much as the feeling that every path leads inevitably to misery. Not really what I want to be left thinking about life.
All that said, I do like the underlying idea, and I'd never deny that Shriver has a way with words. She handles the parallel plots with aplomb, and the theory behind it is interesting in the way it explores how single moments can influence a whole life. If you find that concept appealing, I'd recommend Kate Atkinson's 'Life After Life', which is a superior novel to this one. If you're trying to decide whether to read 'Post-Birthday World' or not, I'd recommend it if you don't mind books that are long and can feel like hard-work or a slog at times. If you like 'introspective' books full of what people think and why, then this would appeal. If you prefer action filled or even plot-driven novels, or don't go in for endless philosophising about relationships, I'd give this one a miss.
Thirty-something Irina is living happily with Lawrence - till a night out with their mutual friend Ramsey forces her to confront a choice : to stick with the safe but reliable man or make a wild leap of faith towards the sexy, spontaneous but undependable Ramsey.
The novel then splits to play out what happens in each choice, the ultimate `what if' scenario, but given that this is Lionel Shriver, there is nothing even vaguely chick-lit, cosy or comforting about either of the stories which plays out.
I think Shriver is one of the most unashamedly intelligent fiction writers we have today. Taking a typical romantic plot-line, she transforms it into something razor-sharp, skewering her characters with her deadly, acidic gaze.
Irina is possibly her most accessible `heroine', less uncompromising than either Eva (We Need To Talk About Kevin) or Willie (Double Fault), yet the book itself doesn't let her off the hook in any sense.
Incisive and sometimes excruciating, this is an acidic yet oddly tender portrait of modern relationships and the choices we make in life.
on 18 April 2008
I know it's been said by the other reviewers, but I too loved the shocking story of "Kevin". However, I hadn't really kept up with Lionel Shriver's work after reading it. But this really was, like "Kevin", a book I was unable to put down and I felt bereft in more ways than one when it was (all too quickly) over. An excellent and disturbing read, especially for those who identify with Irina. Lionel Shriver, more, please! And thank you.
on 11 March 2015
I tried really hard to get into this book, and I do enjoy Lionel Shrivers writing usually, and I like her descriptive flair. But lots of the sentences were badly punctuated so that I had difficulty understanding how they were supposed to be intoned. She tended to flit from one idea to another in the same paragraph so that all of a sudden something was happening that I didn't think the character wanted to do, or couldn't do.
I didn't like the way she constantly made comparisons between English and Americans, sometimes getting quite snide as if some of the mistakes made by Americans and chastised by English folk had actually happened to her and she was defending herself through the book. These often seemed misplaced and didn't fit with the what was going on in the story as if she just wanted to squeeze them in. I could look past these things though, and was prepared to have a go at it. Until Ramsey opened his mouth.
How can a man who is supposed to be cockney use the phrase "what a load of waffle" (waffle?!). He follows relatively intelligent and coherent sentences with nonsensical imbecilic phrases like "you dont got" and "innit". I tried to keep reading through it but it was so frustrating to read, purely because of how unrealistic and unbelievable he was as a character. His character, well-spoken or cockney (choose one!), was never-the-less creepy, leery and quite juvenile. He lacked substance as a human being.
I think this book has a great deal of potential, and if revised and re-released could be brilliant. I just couldn't look past the empty characters and terrible/misplaced accent.
I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is not actually from England, as it may be easier to look past it and enjoy the story.
on 3 June 2012
Although it took a few chapters to really get going with this book, once I did, I really enjoyed it and appreciated the concept of a parallel world, finding it quite a clever way of exploring all the questions and what-ifs that anyone in a relationship finds themselves asking.
Irina, a book illustrator, is in a 10 year relationship with Laurence, a 'think-tank' expert whose expertise is politics; everything about their world is safe and planned - their sex life, their social life, worklife; homelife; - right from pre-dinner popcorn to lights-out sex....they each have their roles and they play them as is expected. Until, one day on Ramsay Acton's birthday - a mutual sometimes friend and famous snooker player - Irina finds herself attracted and badly wanting to kiss him...
From there her world splits into 'what if she does..' and 'what if she doesn't...'
We follow both these worlds and the outcomes with interest and fascination.
Ramsay and Laurence are very different people. Laurence is safe, intellectual, a bit boring, unemotional, sarcastic and predcatable. Ramsay is passionate, unschooled, moody, unpredictable and spontaneous. Which path would you go down? Each path turns out to have its twists and turns, ups and downs and nothing is quite as it seems. In each circumstance Irina appears to have made the right choice but even the right choice doesn't mean happy ever after....
The snooker aspect turned out to be quite fascinating - although not a snooker fan myself, I could see the analogy of the game as the game of life itself - choices scattered like snooker balls, which one to go for, sometimes life snookers you etc - and no, it doesn't come across as trite or overbearing. Lionel Shriver knows her subjects well, even Laurence's smug observations of the Northern Ireland Peace Treaty have relevance to the story and you never feel she is thrusting facts down your throat for the sake of it. Very interesting issues are raised throughout. Lionel's observations are spot on and compelling to read.
Definately a book that will have you questioning and thinking about choices you yourself have made and whether they were right or wrong..ultimately, like the end of the book, you can only make your own mind up!