A tale of parallel lives begins on the night when temptation comes into Irina’s life. In one universe, Irina gives in to an attraction with her partner Lawrence’s friend Ramsay, and in the other she resists. There is something alluring about an author providing an insight into what life would have been like had we just made that other choice. They become the literary angel in our imaginations, much like Clarence gives George Bailey the same opportunity in It’s A Wonderful Life. It can’t be our own lives unfortunately but as long as we identify with the characters then it can mean something to us as well.
The The Post-Birthday World is a clever story by Lionel Shriver, winning author of the Orange prize for We Need To Talk About Kevin, and it is well constructed with incredible attention to detail. There are no slips and the story lines are convincingly mirrored on both sides. Irina faces the same issues and we see that it is not the content of her life but the process of how she does things that determines her life experience. Her problems, or dynamics, are the same for both story lines, the deference to her partner, her work, her lifestyle and most importantly how she takes care of herself.
Irina is a North American children’s book illustrator living in London with her long term partner Lawrence who is a critical, mean-spirited political analyst who talks unpleasantly about people when they are not around. She and her partner are friends with Ramsay, a famous snooker player from a working class background who is raised in Hackney, calls women ‘birds’ and who just can’t manage to win the top prize in his game of choice. On one night when Lawrence is away on business she goes out with Ramsay to celebrate the latter’s birthday. In one version of this book’s reality, she finds Ramsay incredibly attractive and succumbs to her desire for him. In the other she resists and carries on with her life with Lawrence which lacks romance and intimacy.
The two parallel story lines are very well written and had the characters been a little nicer this may have been a great book. Instead, the writer provides unpleasant and full of self-loathing characters who can’t seem to step out of the unhappiness within which they create their own destinies. No matter what course of action Irina takes she cannot escape her unhappiness. The denial and excuses the main character makes up for herself may seem convincing to Shriver but they didn’t to me. They sounded patronising and mean. Here is an author who doesn’t like these people she has created and she never intends a happy ending.
She is a bitter, angry and mean God who plays with her creations as you would with marionettes. This is not a pleasant read and I am determined never to read one of her books again, so far I have read four and the mean streak is there in all of them. In this book, the mean streak becomes quite malicious and the right-wing policies of the Telegraph reading, white, middle class protagonists who are are meant to be intelligent because they support a pro-Bush anti-terrorist agenda is quite embarrassing for the Guardian columnist Shriver.
The most distasteful part of the novel is the constant crude language which seems incredibly out of place.
I don’t recommend this book and I found it quite unpleasant. The main message for the reader seems to be that no matter what you do you are always going to be unhappy. Not much of a motto to live by.