Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver

The Post-Birthday World starts off in the "pre-birthday world" where Irina, Lawrence, Ramsey and Jude were friends. Every year for Ramsey's birthday they get together to celebrate. When Ramsey and Jude divorce and Lawrence is out of town, Irina and Ramsey are left to celebrate his birthday alone. At the end of the birthday dinner evening, they find themselves in a compromising position and Irina has a choice to make. It's either full steam ahead or high-tail it out of there. From that point on, the characters find themselves in the "post-birthday world". In alternating chapters featuring one of the two outcomes, we see how the lives of the main characters unfold based on this one decision.

Written from Irina's point of view, this is one of the most amazing books I've read. However, I had to get into it about 100 pages before I really started appreciating it. Her writing is dense with details and is far from simple, but it still felt like a quick read. The storyline is ingenious. I loved the parallel worlds in which events happen or words are spoken on both sides, but not always with the same characters. [It's hard to explain, but you'll see what I mean when you read the book.] Her characters are realistic, engaging and interesting. Irina was my favourite, but the other main characters were fun to read about also. I think I laughed every time Irina's mother called "Ramsey", "Rumsey". With respect to Ramsey, I kept picturing him as Richard Dawson ("Hogan's Heroes", "Family Fued") even though the physical description was completely off.

Because Ramsey is a professional snooker player, Shriver spends some time explaining the game and the circuit. Sure, I'd seen snooker a couple of times on TV and while I did find it interesting, I couldn't make heads or tails of the rules. Anyway, I learned more about it and that's always good. I even learned the right and wrong way to pronounce "snooker" or is it "snucker". Hmmm...I guess I've forgotten which way is proper. ;)

I loved Shriver's use of alliterations. To me they are like a seasoning in cooking. Too many can spoil a dish or in this case too many alliterations can spoil a novel. However, Shriver's a master chef in regards to alliterations knowing exactly when and how much to throw in. [I'm kicking myself now that I didn't save an example to include here. Trust me, she's good.]

In my favourite quote, Irina is talking about the moral in a children's book:
The idea is that you don't have only one destiny...But whichever direction you go, there are going to be upsides and downsides. You're dealing with a set of trade-offs, and not one perfect course in comparison to which all the others are crap.

I'm really looking forward to more works by this extremely talented author. I already have a copy of We Need to Talk About Kevin and hope to start it soon.

Highly recommended.

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