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Abandoned | The Post-Birthday World

From now on I'm going to be better at quitting books that do nothing for me. And I'll explain why. (No self-portrait, no R&R #. I prefer to do those kinds of reviews only for books I finish.)

Lionel Shriver
The Post-Birthday World
Abandoned: page 118/478

I decided to read THE POST-BIRTHDAY WORLD by Lionel Shriver because I loved its concept and because I loved her novel WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN.

In THE POST-BIRTHDAY WORLD, Irina is faced with a decision: to kiss Ramsey Acton, or not. Shriver examines both options, setting out Irina's destinies in both instances, in parallel. In the world where she kisses Ramsey, Irina leaves her long-time not-quite husband Lawrence and starts a new life with Ramsey, a passionate snooker player. In the other storyline, Irina does not kiss Ramsey, and chooses contentment with Lawrence, a reliable and thus predictable man. It is an in-depth look at that pesky "what if?" question we pose to ourselves when we do, or don't. It's not so much which is better as it is a look at two imperfect options, both of their ups and downs. Because that's life, and that's the difficulty of a dilemma.

The idea is most definitely interesting, and I get what Shriver tried to do here. But I feel it wasn't executed well. Double dialogues, double events – with opposing outcomes. What happens in storyline one does not happen in the now predictable second storyline. (I only made it as far as page 118, though, so it could be different later on.)

The text is also too dense, and that was my main problem with the book. Ten pages of THE POST-BIRTHDAY WORLD, and I had my fill for the week. While I appreciate the care Shriver takes in developing Irina's character and situation(s), I had enough of Irina's (double!) depressing introspection after 100 pages. The more pages I read, the more I felt inclined to shove a DVD of Sliding Doors in my DVD-player and watch that brilliant parallel-worlds story, instead.

Shriver knows a lot and writes a lot, too. One of many examples is a moment where Irina's fingers stiffen up from the cold due to Reynaud's disease; Shriver feels the condition is worth a plug and an explanation at some point in the narrative. Why does Shriver spend so much time on these kinds of details? It's almost self-indulgent: "Behold my (random) knowledge!"

Here comes the line us reviewers love to throw around: "Where was the editor?!" But I feel my complaint is valid here; as much as I admire Shriver's writing and her intelligence, this book is simply too "full", unnecessarily. THE POST-BIRTHDAY WORLD, although very insightful and raw in a sense, is a real chore to get through. It bored me, times twice – and when it didn't bore me, it depressed me. The text was not only dense, it was also intense. I felt relieved when put I it down; I dreaded having to pick it up again.

I'm not one to shy away from non-perky books which handle heavy subject material; but I don't wish to be depressed AND bored on top of it. Had I perhaps cared about the characters…but I didn't.

I tried liking Irina, but I just didn't find her sympathetic at all. Lawrence was dull. But the worst has to be Ramsey: overkill, embodied. His British was laid on too thick and it was inconsistent (multiple dialects blended together). Shriver had him blurting out lines by the likes of, "If I was a bird, I'd be fancied a right mug. (…) But I'm a bloke, so instead I'm Jack the Lad. Hand in the knickers, and it costing me no more than the odd chardonnay." The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain, my dear fellow. I didn't believe him as a character and what's more, I couldn't see Irina falling for him. Ramsey didn't work for me. And so the entire book, which hinges on Ramsey and that one kiss, also didn't work for me.

Karin Elizabeth
1 Comment
  • How sad that you abandoned this book. I had my difficulties with it too but finished it – I'm not tough enough to abandon books 😉
    I found that the story's magic didn't unfold until the last few chapters and then suddenly everything made sense and the author's message couldn't have been clearer.
    Cheers, Katarina 🙂

    May 17, 2011 at 4:45 pm

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