three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
28-May-June-2007
user_rating: 
0

A-The Post-Birthday WorldIrina McGovern, an American children’s book illustrator living in London, leads a predictable life with her longtime, predictable boyfriend, Lawrence. One night Irina suddenly finds herself alone with—and irresistibly attracted to—Ramsey Acton, a professional snooker player. Shriver explores what-if in a dual narrative that relates, in alternating chapters, the long-term consequences of each of Irina’s choices. In one storyline, Irina kisses Ramsey and rediscovers passion and pleasure while neglecting her health and career. In the other, she resists temptation and virtuously returns home to Lawrence, stability, and boredom. However, all is not quite as it seems in this perceptive novel.
HarperCollins. 528 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 0061187844

International Herald Trib 4 of 5 Stars
"It is as unflinching as they come about the daily difficulties of romantic relationships: how the things that attract can so easily become the things that repel; how admiration and irritation are functions of context; and how inchoate petty dissatisfactions can sneak up on any couple. What makes it so interesting is that Irina, the main character, finds those things true no matter which man she chooses." Sarah Lyall

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"As Ms. Shriver tells it, Irina’s choice between Ramsey and Lawrence is less about the two men than about who she wants to be. … That we’re able to overlook the flaws of Ramsey and Lawrence is, in the end, a testament to Ms. Shriver’s ability to make Irina into a thoroughly compelling character, an idiosyncratic yet recognizable heroine about whom it’s impossible not to care." Michiko Kakutani

Wall Street Journal 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The Post-Birthday World is disturbing because it seems real: Irina’s wavering and soul-searching are not the comic vacillations of Bridget Jones, and the choices she makes are not the pragmatic decisions of an emblematic woman ambitious to ‘have it all.’ … The lasting sensation for the reader is the one Irina experienced when her dilemma first arose: that of ‘hurtling through this tunnel toward not romance, but cynicism.’" Tara Gallagher

Boston Globe 3 of 5 Stars
"It’s a complicated premise, and it took me time to grow comfortable with it. … On the other hand, when the device works, it is fascinating to watch how Irina’s life is changed by a single kiss." Chris Bohjalian

Los Angeles Times 3 of 5 Stars
"Shriver again demonstrates that she’s capable of patiently teasing out the ramifications of her ideas. But doggedly pursued over 500-plus pages … the comparison between life with Ramsey and life with Lawrence devolves into an interminable list of pros and cons." Heller McAlpin

Miami Herald 3 of 5 Stars
"She is capable of amazingly acute asides, but they get buried under pages of plodding, work-a-day prose. Similarly, the magic of possibility, of what if and their darker counterpart, the yearning sense of if only, the rueful looking back, get buried by Irina’s painstakingly detailed daily life." Ellen Kanner

NY Times Book Review 1.5 of 5 Stars
"She seems to have rushed out this new book, churning through tired themes of infidelity and regret without offering fresh insight or even an entertaining story. The Post-Birthday World will only leave readers feeling snookered." Julia Scheeres

Critical Summary

Critics had divided reactions to Lionel Shriver’s latest novel (after the Orange Prize–winning We Need to Talk About Kevin, 3.5 of 5 Stars Sept/Oct 2003). Though most considered her use of the dual narrative a clever literary device, not all agreed that it worked. Some found the alternating storylines confusing, while others were bored by the exhaustively catalogued details of Irina’s everyday life. The Post-Birthday World doesn’t provide easy answers to the questions it raises about relationships. Irina, however, proves to be a well-rounded, sympathetic character, and the relative failure or success of her dueling destinies depends as much on the reader’s point of view as it does on her own. At 528 pages, Shriver’s novel is a hefty examination of the possibilities—and regrets—in the decisions we make every day.