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The Post-Birthday World

The Post-Birthday World

3.5 51
by Lionel Shriver, Tanya Eby (Read by)

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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


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.

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
"Daring [and] dazzling."
Time Magazine
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."
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.”
“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)
The Scotsman
“The Post-Birthday World is a...radical book.”
Time magazine
South-East Advertiser (Australia)
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)
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
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.”

Product Details

Brilliance Audio
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.00(h) x 1.50(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.

Meet the Author

Lionel Shriver's novels include The New Republic, So Much for That, The Post-Birthday World, and the international bestseller We Need to Talk About Kevin. Her journalism has appeared in The Guardian, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and many other publications.

Brief Biography

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

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The Post-Birthday World 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 51 reviews.
eezelpreezel More than 1 year ago
I'd love to be able to write an educated review here, but the E Book that I and two of my other book club members downloaded was only HALF of the book. So if you are getting the E Book, make sure that it's the whole thing right away. I believe the page count is 544 pages. I downloaded 282 pages, which included the normal back-of-the-book things like about the author and also by.
Guest More than 1 year ago
WOW!!!!! This is one of my favorite books of all time. It sits next to the grapes of wrath. The message of whatever choices you make in life will bring you to the same conclusion was so profound and correct. Our deep inner cores will lead us to a similar conclusion everytime. I never thought anybody was going to be able to put this into words and make it sensible but you did it! I cannot tell you how you changed my life! I am very disappointed in the earlier reviewer. this book is not for the person that just wants to be entertained. This book is for people who want to think and really understand the human race and how we handle all we encounter. I think the former reviewer should stick with Danielle Steele. No thinking needed.
Guest More than 1 year ago
When I started reading this book, I thought I wasn't going to make it through it. It took a while to adjust to the author's writing, etc. I am so glad I held out. This goes down as one of my favorite books of all time. For those who don't understand it, it's about a woman who lives out two totally different lives based on one decision that she makes. If she chooses one option, she will stay in a 'secure' relationship and you see the ups and downs and outcome of this relationship. If she chooses the other option, you see her go into a relationship that has all the odds against it and you see the ultimate outcome here as well. It's really just a great book especially for those who wonder if the grass is greener on the other side.
Book-touched More than 1 year ago
The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver is not an easy book to read but clutching my dictionary all the way I stayed with it and boy was I rewarded! I must admit I just didn't get it at first (despite the reviews) however, in retrospect, half the fun of this fantastic read was discovering the author's method and intent. From that point on I was hooked. Through Irina, Shriver's main character, the universal "what if" question is given life. In this case the "what if" is a choice between two men but it goes much deeper than that. Her characters, love them or hate them, represent the imperfect human condition with all its foibles, vulnerabilities, deceits, desires, decisions made or not made. Shriver is a brilliant writer everyday occurrences ring true with surprising twists and turns. The reader is challenged to think, to feel and maybe even to examine ones own "what if" scenarios a little deeper. I highly recommend this book for the adventuresome reader. I'll read more of her books.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent book, engrossing and insightful tale of human nature. Life is full of choices and the consequences of those choices. The author's brilliant writing details two paths and the consequences of each. This is the story of a woman who chooses and learns no matter her choice life isn't simple. Life isn't neat and tidy. To write double chapters, interwine the characters and to flawlessly keep the reader on top of the situations is utterly amazing. Terrific story, terrific writing and great for discussion. (The vocabulary used is fabulous and could easily be used as an enjoyable SAT prep lesson.)
MsOrange78 More than 1 year ago
This book has an excellent story line and the writing style is admirable. However, this was the most painful 500 pages I have ever read through. At first I was intrigued and anxious to see where the story went, then with every page the layers of regret and depression thickened. This book definitley showed me that I do NOT want to know what the future holds. All and all, I will not recommend this book to everyone; only a few select friends. Since I paid bargain price, I do not regret getting the book. All and all, I am glad I read this book, if anything just to appreciate the writing style of the author. If you are the type of person who becomes emotionally connected to characters, this might be a hard book for you to read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
great story that turns on a single choice and fully examines the consequences. shriver also takes great care to point out that not making a choice has its own ramifications. well written with vivid yet everyday characters.
Meaningful_Book_Lover More than 1 year ago
I liked the book and the idea of having two different worlds happening depending on one choice she makes. I found it creative and quite realistic. I did enjoy the book but there were a couple parts that drug on just a little and were irritating. Also, I wasn't expecting the ending and I don't want to give anything away but I didn't like it for personal reasons so it could be an ending another reader would like (personal preference). However, it was still well written and a good read!
MCHR More than 1 year ago
This book has a surprise for the reader... I liked it very much the way it deals with the "what ifs..." that we sometimes ask ourselves about our lives, decisions we've made, and choices and consequences.
emily_reads More than 1 year ago
This novel is one of my favorites! Shriver creates an intricately and masterfully woven plot that moves slowly at times, but ultimately rewards a patient reader. The characters' actions and the effects of their decisions will raise thought-provoking questions for an individual reader and book clubs alike. Follow me on twitter for more (mini) reviews of popular fiction and canonical literature.
LauraReviews More than 1 year ago
In The Post-Birthday World, Shriver writes of protagonist Irina McGovern whose one choice could lead her down two different life paths. Shriver alternates chapters with Irina's life unfolding if she had made the choice as well as if she had not. The evolution of Irina's relationships with the book's two supporting male characters is also creative. Shriver reminds us of fate, despite choices we make. Perhaps not one of my all time favorites, I enjoyed this and recommended it to many of my friends in my book club.
crp_84 More than 1 year ago
Lionel Shriver did a great job writing this novel. I really particularly enjoyed the way she wrote in a parallel universe way based on which direction Irina (main character) decided to go. I've never encountered anything like this in a story before but it was interesting nonetheless. The story itself was decent. Not my favorite, I really enjoyed other Shriver stories more. The story seemed somewhat dry and it took me a a while to get through: almost three weeks which is a record for me. The story is interesting but a little slow for my taste. I would recommend it though just for the fact that Lionel Shriver is such a unique storyteller.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It took 100 or so pages to get going but then this book had me completely hooked. To watch the plots exchange and interchange was fascinating. I went back and forth rooting for one life over another like a tennis ball over the net. But whichever version Irina, Lawrence and Ramsey were true to themselves. I rooted for them all and mourned not just a little for them too. Great read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book deserves mention of it's memorable characters and unusual plot. At first I thought some of the book was part of a dream,and I was fascinated when I realized what Shriver was doing. Life is not perfect, and Irina McGovern's life is a courageous and honestly presented example of this. I can't wait for my book club's discussion of The Post Birthday World!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have never not finished a book in my like but found I could not take any more of this book. The chracters are flat and extremely unlikeable. The author gives two possible outcomes to every situation which is ridiculous and beyond confusing. This was overly verbose as well, why take 4 sentences to say something that could be said in one? Why take up pages when a paragraph would do? DON'T WASTE YOUR TIME WITH THIS BOOK. LP.
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kyohin More than 1 year ago
This was a hard book to read prior to retiring each night because I'd lie there wondering what if this happens? what if that happens? Of course, I ask myself those questions regardless what book I was just reading.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
... and thoroughly unlikeable characters. Flawed characters can be intriguing but these are just plain annoying. I kept hoping they would all meet an untimely death.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I rarely give up on a book but I abandoned this one about half way. The characters and story line were uninteresting; the alternating "what if" plots were difficult. I finally decided I was just working too darn hard to try to finish/like this book and moved on.
hillaryab More than 1 year ago
I wanted to like this more, but I really had to push myself to finish reading it. I liked it, but the alternate tracks of the protaganist's life were a bit confusing at first. Later in the book it was much easier to differentiate the divergences, but the first few chapters were rather confusing. It ended suddenly, but on a very nice/kind note.