Book Review 32: The Post Birthday World by Lionel Shriver

27 May

Similar to Life After LifeThe Post Birthday World also looks at alternate timelines of the protagonist’s life.  Irina McGovern takes family friend Ramsey Acton to dinner for his birthday one evening while her husband is traveling. And her choice that night sets off two alternate timelines.  In the first, she begins a torrid affair with alcoholic, reckless but passionate Ramsey.  In the second, she opts out of pursuing an affair and stays with her stable, long term partner Lawrence who shares her interests, challenges her intellectually and shares her home.

Much of what I enjoyed about this book is what I found so beautiful in Life After Life. I think everyone imagines what their life would look like if they’d made a different decision, chosen a different career,  married their first love, run off with the handsome man they met at a bar one night, never had children, etc. But when we fantasize about those things, we imagine a life infinitely better than our own. In our imaginations, when we make the other choice – the sun always shines, we never fight, we love our boss, our work is fulfilling and we never work weekends, our children with our hypothetical partner are well behaved and darling, etc. What daydreaming about the “what ifs” of life you never think about the hard times.

And there are hard times. The Post Birthday World is such an honest depiction of how the timelines would play out for Irina, including all the gritty day to day details and sadness we forget in our own imaginations, that it can be a little painful to read at times. Most chapters include a mirror image of the same event or theme. It never feels trite though, because Shriver is an incredible writer. And the mirror images are not simply “one happy” and “one sad” – in both timelines, there is something life affirming happening for Irina, but there is also an incredible sadness that accompanies all of her triumphs. And when she falters, or hits a roadblock, you still get an insight into why she made the choice she did and whether she’s ultimately happy.

Definitely worth a read.


4 Responses to “Book Review 32: The Post Birthday World by Lionel Shriver”

  1. pyrajane May 28, 2013 at 11:27 am #

    This sounds like a good one. Added to my TBR list!

  2. Jen K May 28, 2013 at 3:56 pm #

    I loved this book – it’s definitely my favorite one by that author. I thought the parallels between her lives was incredibly well-done, and how her actions caused other to react to her, especially Lawrence. Depending on the version of her life, he either comes off as the most sympathetic character in the story or a complete weasel.

    • HelloKatieO May 30, 2013 at 11:00 am #

      Have you read any of her other books that you’d recommend?


  1. HelloKatieO’s #CBR5 Review #32: The Post Birthday World by Lionel Shriver | Cannonball Read V - May 27, 2013

    […] And there are hard times. […]

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