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!