The Post-Birthday World

The Post-Birthday World

3.5 50
by Lionel Shriver
     
 

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In this eagerly awaited new novel, Lionel Shriver, the Orange Prize-winning author of the international bestseller We Need to Talk About Kevin, delivers an imaginative and entertaining look at the implications, large and small, of whom we choose to love. Using a playful parallel-universe structure, The Post-Birthday World follows one woman's future as it…  See more details below

Overview

In this eagerly awaited new novel, Lionel Shriver, the Orange Prize-winning author of the international bestseller We Need to Talk About Kevin, delivers an imaginative and entertaining look at the implications, large and small, of whom we choose to love. Using a playful parallel-universe structure, The Post-Birthday World follows one woman's future as it unfolds under the influence of two drastically different men.

Children's book illustrator Irina McGovern enjoys a quiet and settled life in London with her partner, fellow American expatriate Lawrence Trainer, a smart, loyal, disciplined intellectual at a prestigious think tank. To their small circle of friends, their relationship is rock solid. Until the night Irina unaccountably finds herself dying to kiss another man: their old friend from South London, the stylish, extravagant, passionate top-ranking snooker player Ramsey Acton. The decision to give in to temptation will have consequences for her career, her relationships with family and friends, and perhaps most importantly the texture of her daily life.

Hinging on a single kiss, this enchanting work of fiction depicts Irina's alternating futures with two men temperamentally worlds apart yet equally honorable. With which true love Irina is better off is neither obvious nor easy to determine, but Shriver's exploration of the two destinies is memorable and gripping. Poignant and deeply honest, written with the subtlety and wit that are the hallmarks of Shriver's work, The Post-Birthday World appeals to the what-if in us all.

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Editorial Reviews

Michiko Kakutani
Although the decision to depict Ramsey and Lawrence as such polar opposites makes for a schematic story line, this flaw is steamrollered by Ms. Shriver’s instinctive knowledge of her heroine’s heart and mind and her ability to limn Irina’s very different relationships with these two men. Relying on the same gift for psychological portraiture that she used in her award-winning 2003 novel, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Ms. Shriver makes palpable both Irina’s magnetic attraction to Ramsey and the ease and comfort she feels with Lawrence.
— The New York Times
Mameve Medwed
Lionel Shriver's wonderful new novel, her latest since the prize-winning We Need to Talk About Kevin, creates parallel universes that indulge all our what-if speculations. Spared any fork-in-the-road choices, Irina McGovern, a children's book illustrator, can have her beefcake and eat it too. A professional, independent woman not enamored of feminist bumper stickers, Irina admits, "The only thing I can't live without is a man." In this case, Shriver grants her two.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
The smallest details of staid coupledom duel it out with a lusty alternate reality that begins when a woman passes up an opportunity to cheat on her longtime boyfriend in Shriver's latest (after the Orange Prize-winning We Need to Talk About Kevin). Irina McGovern, a children's book illustrator in London, lives in comfortable familiarity with husband-in-everything-but-marriage-certificate Lawrence Trainer, and every summer the two have dinner with their friend, the professional snooker player Ramsey Acton, to celebrate Ramsey's birthday. One year, following Ramsey's divorce and while terrorism specialist "think tank wonk" Lawrence is in Sarajevo on business, Irina and Ramsey have dinner, and after cocktails and a spot of hash, Irina is tempted to kiss Ramsey. From this near-smooch, Shriver leads readers on a two-pronged narrative: one consisting of what Irina imagines would have happened if she had given in to temptation, the other showing Irina staying with Lawrence while fantasizing about Ramsey. With Jamesian patience, Shriver explores snooker tournaments and terrorism conferences, passionate lovemaking and passionless sex, and teases out her themes of ambition, self-recrimination and longing. The result is an impressive if exhausting novel. (Mar.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Expatriates in London, children's book illustrator Irena McGovern and longtime partner Lawrence, a head-in-the-clouds sort who works at a think tank, are quietly content with their routine lives. Then, when Lawrence is away on business, Irena is saddled with the responsibility of taking out an old friend for his birthday. The ex-husband of an author Irena has worked with, Ramsey Acton is unpredictable, electric, slightly uncouth-and one of England's best-known snooker players. To Irena's surprise, she feels an urgent attraction to Ramsey on their evening out and is stuck with the inevitable question: should she or shouldn't she? In real life, we can never have it both ways, but in this original and involving work, Orange Prize winner Shriver (We Need To Talk About Kevin) gets to indulge. In alternating chapters, she details what happens when Irena takes the erotic plunge with Ramsey and then what happens when she doesn't. The technique works surprisingly well. Sometimes one story is more engaging than the other, but the two versions are seamlessly knit, and in the end both are convincing and beautifully told. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 11/15/06.]-Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A layered and unflinching portrait of infidelity-with a narrative appropriately split in two. In the opening chapter, Shriver (We Need to Talk About Kevin, 2003, etc.) introduces three people suffering mid-life crises in late-1990s London: Irena, a children's book illustrator; her longtime romantic partner, Lawrence, a researcher at a political think tank; and Ramsey, a wealthy snooker pro who's recently divorced Jude, Irena's former professional partner. The four used to celebrate Ramsey's birthday together, but Lawrence is traveling and Jude is out of the picture, leaving Irena and Ramsey to while away an evening together. A polite dinner soon drifts into heavy flirting, and from there the story breaks into two narratives with alternating chapters: In one, Irena pursues an affair with Ramsey and leaves Lawrence; in the other, she restrains herself and stays loyal. Each choice has its downside. Ramsey, despite his outwardly suave demeanor, proves to be a childish lout who's prone to jealousy, drinks heavily and is tormented about his failure to win the national snooker championship; the sex is great (and crucial for keeping the peace), but his demands on Irena's time and emotions threaten her professional and family relationships. Life with Lawrence is more stable, but she's dogged by an urge to break away from humdrum domestic rhythms and increasingly suspicious of Lawrence's behavior. Shriver pulls off a tremendous feat of characterization: Following Irena across 500-plus pages and two timelines offers remarkable insight into her work habits, her thought processes, the way she argues with friends and family, the small incidents of everyday life that make her feel either trapped orfree. Better yet, the author is more interested in raising questions about love and fidelity than in pat moralizing. Readers will wonder which choice was best for Irena, but Shriver masterfully confounds any attempt to arrive at a sure answer. Agent: Kim Witherspoon/InkWell Management
Bookseller (London)
“Shriver is a terrific, intelligent writer.”
Denver Rocky Mountain News
“Witty, formidably bright author…Lively parts…”
More Magazine
“Daring [and] dazzling.”
Sunday Telegraph (Australia)
“[A] tour de force in literary structure and mastery of language...engrossing.”
Vogue
“Hugely entertaining…tackles the dueling human needs for passion and security with fierce, witty honesty.”
Entertainment Weekly
“Best novel of ‘07.”
New York Daily News
“Provocative...stunningly intense.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Shriver has a gift for creating real and complicated characters and putting them in less-than-simple situations…Highly engrossing novel…”
The Nelson Mail (New Zealand)
“Shriver is very obviously a perceptive observer and clever chronicler of the human condition, in all its messy, unresolved glory.”
The Evening Standard (London)
“Compelling...ingenious...inspired.”
The Scotsman
“The Post-Birthday World is a...radical book.”
Time magazine
“...hot...”
South-East Advertiser (Australia)
“...unique...”
Philadelphia Inquirer
“Ingenious...delightful...[Shriver] has produced a novel that’s equal parts entertainment and psychological massage.”
Daily Telegraph (Australia)
"Shriver’s an extraordinary writer. Her perceptiveness of male-female relationships is unsettling, dangerous, familiar and voyeuristic. [The Post-Birthday World is] impossible to put down."
New York Times
“Provocative….The Post-Birthday World is…as unflinching as they come.”
Sunday Times (London)
“...enjoyable...”
Weekend Australian
“Shriver writes with elegance and a loaded intensity...she is a brilliant, witty storyteller and the book is utterly compelling.”
The Times (London)
“This is a compulsive, clever, wise and witty novel.”
Mail on Sunday
“Ingenious....there is an impressive freshness in her treatment. The writing is intelligent, the characterisation thoughtful, the insights into love, sex and snooker sharp. After her acclaimed 2003 novel, We Need To Talk About Kevin, Shriver confirms her reputation as an original talent.”
Christian Science Monitor
“...fascinating...”
Irish Times
“Shriver writes with much intelligence and wryness....The twofold nature of the plot...makes for enlightening reading.”
Daily Telegraph (Australia
“Shriver’s an extraordinary writer. Her perceptiveness of male-female relationships is unsettling, dangerous, familiar and voyeuristic. [The Post-Birthday World is] impossible to put down.”
MoreMagazine
"Daring [and] dazzling."
Time Magazine
"...hot..."
Daily Telegraph (Australia))
"Shriver’s an extraordinary writer. Her perceptiveness of male-female relationships is unsettling, dangerous, familiar and voyeuristic. [The Post-Birthday World is] impossible to put down."

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780594042747
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
02/26/2008
Pages:
544
Sales rank:
177,725
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.87(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

What began as coincidence had crystallized into tradition: on the sixth of July, they would have dinner with Ramsey Acton on his birthday.

Five years earlier, Irina had been collaborating with Ramsey's then-wife, Jude Hartford, on a children's book. Jude had made social overtures. Abjuring the airy we-really-must-get-together-sometime feints common to London, which can carry on indefinitely without threatening to clutter your diary with a real time and place, Jude had seemed driven to nail down a foursome so that her illustrator could meet her husband, Ramsey. Or, no—she'd said, "My husband, Ramsey Acton." The locution had stood out. Irina assumed that Jude was prideful in that wearing feminist way about the fact that she'd not taken her husband's surname.

But then, it is always difficult to impress the ignorant. When negotiating with Lawrence over the prospective dinner back in 1992, Irina didn't know enough to mention, "Believe it or not, Jude's married to Ramsey Acton." For once Lawrence might have bolted for his Economist day-planner, instead of grumbling that if she had to schmooze for professional reasons, could she at least schedule an early dinner so that he could get back in time for NYPD Blue. Not realizing that she had been bequeathed two magic words that would vanquish Lawrence's broad hostility to social engagements, Irina had said instead, "Jude wants me to meet her husband, Raymond or something."

Yet when the date she proposed turned out to be "Raymond or something's" birthday, Jude insisted that more would be merrier. Once returned to bachelorhood, Ramsey let slip enough details about his marriage forIrina to reconstruct: after a couple of years, they could not carry a conversation for longer than five minutes. Jude had leapt at the chance to avoid a sullen, silent dinner just the two of them.

Which Irina found baffling. Ramsey always seemed pleasant enough company, and the strange unease he always engendered in Irina herself would surely abate if you were married to the man. Maybe Jude had loved dragging Ramsey out to impress colleagues but was not sufficiently impressed on her own behalf. One-on-one he had bored her silly.

Besides, Jude's exhausting gaiety had a funny edge of hysteria about it, and simply wouldn't fly—would slide inevitably to the despair that lay beneath it—without that quorum of four. When you cocked only half an ear to her uproarious discourse, it was hard to tell if she was laughing or crying. Though she did laugh a great deal, including through most of her sentences, her voice rising in pitch as she drove herself into ever accelerating hilarity when nothing she had said was funny. It was a compulsive, deflective laughter, born of nerves more than humor, a masking device and therefore a little dishonest. Yet her impulse to put a brave, bearable face on what must have been a profound unhappiness was sympathetic. Her breathless mirth pushed Irina in the opposite direction—to speak soberly, to keep her voice deep and quiet, if only to demonstrate that it was acceptable to be serious. Thus if Irina was sometimes put off by Jude's manner, in the woman's presence she at least liked herself.

Irina hadn't been familiar with the name of Jude's husband, consciously. Nevertheless, that first birthday, when Jude had bounced into the Savoy Grill with Ramsey gliding beside her—it was already late enough in a marriage that was really just a big, well-meaning mistake that her clasp of his hand could only have been for show—Irina met the tall man's gray-blue eyes with a jolt, a tiny touching of live wires that she subsequently interpreted as visual recognition, and later—much later—as recognition of another kind.

Lawrence Trainer was not a pretentious man. He may have accepted a research fellowship at a prestigious London think tank, but he was raised in Las Vegas, and remained unapologetically American. He said "controversy," not "controversy"; he never elided the K-sound in "schedule." So he hadn't rushed to buy a white cable sweater and joined his local cricket league. Still, his father was a golf instructor; he inherited an interest in sports. He was a culturally curious person, despite a misanthropic streak that resisted having dinner with strangers when he could be watching reruns of American cop shows on Channel 4.

Thus early in the couple's expatriation to London, Lawrence conceived a fascination with snooker. While Irina had supposed this British pastime to be an arcane variation on pool, Lawrence took pains to apprise her that it was much more difficult, and much more elegant, than dumpy old eight-ball. At six feet by twelve, a snooker table made an American billiards table look like a child's toy. It was a game not only of dexterity but of intricate premeditation, requiring its past masters to think up to a dozen shots ahead, and to develop a spatial and geometric sophistication that any mathematician would esteem.

Irina hadn't discouraged Lawrence's enthusiasm for snooker tournaments on the BBC, for the game's ambiance was one of repose. The vitreous click-click of balls and civilized patter of polite applause were far more soothing than the gunshots and sirens of cop shows. The commentators spoke just above a whisper in soft, regional accents. Their vocabulary was suggestive, although not downright smutty: in amongst the balls, deep screw, double-kiss, loose red; the black was available. Though by custom a working-class sport, snooker was conducted in a spirit of decency and refinement more associated with aristocracy. The players wore waistcoats, and bow ties. They never swore; displays of temper were not only frowned upon but could cost a reduction of one's score. Unlike the hooligan audiences for football, or even tennis—once the redoubt of snobs but lately as low-rent as demolition derby—snooker crowds were pin-drop silent during play. Fans had sturdy bladders, for even tip-toeing to the loo invited public censure from the referee, an austere presence of few words who wore short, spotless white gloves.

The Post-Birthday World LP. Copyright © by Lionel Shriver. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Meet the Author

Lionel Shriver's books include The Post-Birthday World, Game Control, and the Orange Prize-winning We Need to Talk About Kevin. She writes frequently for the Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, and The Independent. She lives in London.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
Brooklyn, New York, and London, England
Date of Birth:
May 18, 1957
Place of Birth:
Gastonia, North Carolina
Education:
B.A., Barnard College of Columbia University, 1978; M.F.A. in Fiction Writing, Columbia University, 1982
Website:
http://www.talkaboutkevin.com

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