The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver

Has anyone else read The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver?The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver

I found the book totally confusing until I got to grips with its singular structure.

In chapter one, Irina, the heroine, has to decide whether to kiss another man, Ramsey (she already has a long-term partner, Lawrence). After chapter one, the story splits in two with alternate chapters following what happens to Irina if she goes ahead with the kiss and the intervening chapters dealing with what happens if she doesn’t kiss Ramsey. The two strands share a final chapter.

In summary – it’s two books in one.   

Once I got the hang of this I thoroughly enjoyed the book (thanks for lending it to me, Alison!) I preferred the ‘unfaithful’ strand of the story – maybe because in books its interesting to watch characters make risky decisions that many of us wouldn’t dare to take in real life.

Shriver says of the book, ‘Hingeing the book on this single decision allows me to explore the implications, large and small, of whom we choose to love’.

She also describes it as ‘participatory fiction’ – at the end of the book you know the results of both courses of action, so with hindsight which choice would you have made? Would you have chosen to kiss or not to kiss? It’s a very hard question to answer since the ultimate outcome is the same for both strands of the story – they share the final chapter. I think the unfaithful Irina had more of a roller-coaster ride along the way but the faithful Irina didn’t have an easy time of it either.

I suspect it must have been quite fun to write a novel with this type of structure. Usually, at each turning point, our characters must follow only one course of action and we never get to explore how things might have developed had they chosen a different path. Shriver is able to examine the impact of both possible outcomes on all her characters – Irina, Lawrence and Ramsey. 

The Post-Birthday World is a book worth reading.

Talking of books, I’ll be drawing the next keeper of my World Book Night books on 1st June – see here for details.


  1. #1 by Patsy Collins on May 26, 2011 - 4:36 pm

    Sounds an interesting book – I’ll look out for it.

  2. #2 by Lorna King on May 26, 2011 - 8:05 pm

    Hi Sally

    The story reminds me of a film called Sliding Doors starring Gwyneth Paltrow and John Hannah. It’s about a girl whose love life and career all hinge on whether or not she catches a train, and the viewer gets to see it both ways. I think it’s a fascinating idea and a great way to tell a story, I will definately look out for the book!

    Kind Regards


    • #3 by Sally Jenkins on May 27, 2011 - 12:12 pm

      Lorna – I know the film. Isn’t it amazing how something so small as missing a train can affect someone’s whole future? Fiction writing is often based on the ‘What if’ – what if she misses the train? what if she kisses the man? But usually we don’t get to see both sides of the ‘what if’ – that’s what makes this book & the film, Sliding Doors, stand out.

      Helen – I haven’t read ‘We Need To Talk About Kevin’ but will be looking for it in the library.

  3. #4 by Helen Yendall on May 27, 2011 - 11:18 am

    that does sound interesting, and worth a read! I have read a couple of other Lionel Shriver books. I loved ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’ (which apparently is being made into a film) but another of her earlier books, about tennis ‘Double Fault’ was not so good. She’s obviously, like us all, improved, the more she’s written!

  4. #5 by Mel H on June 6, 2011 - 12:31 pm

    I picked this book up because I liked the sound of it but I didn’t love the book in the end. It was an interesting idea (and I have meant to try flavouring my popcorn ever since!!) but I didn’t really love the characters or buy into them completely. I did, however, love Kevin although I’ve heard a few people saying the opposite lately. I found it fascinating and am looking forward to the film which is supposed to be an impressive adaptation.

    • #6 by Sally Jenkins on June 6, 2011 - 12:34 pm

      Mel – Interesting that you didn’t like the book and the amount of popcorn eaten did get a bit annoying didn’t it! I’ve never read Kevin but think I’ll have to give it a try now.

  5. #7 by shirley stow on June 30, 2011 - 4:29 pm

    I have just finished reading Post Birthday World, a book I bought after I read your review on the blog. I struggled with it at first, then I needed to know just how the story would develop so kept on reading. It is difficult to explain the events to anyone. However, accepting the several storylines separately, I think the book is extremely well written and challenges the imagination. I enjoyed it!

    • #8 by Sally Jenkins on June 30, 2011 - 7:24 pm

      Glad you enjoyed it, Shirley. I think once you get through the first few chapters and get used to the storyline then you’re hooked and have to carry on to the end.

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