Sunday 20 May 2007

The Post Birthday World by Lionel Shriver

We Need To Talk About Kevin was the first Lionel Shriver book I read. It is the scariest story a mother could ever read. But essential. In that book a mother is writing letters to her son who turned into a serial killer. I don't want to give too much away because the ending of this book is a real shocker. This isn't an easy book to read but I was fascinated by it. The author had been turned down by numerous publishers before finally finding one. Lionel Shriver is an American expatriate living in London. It took a brave woman to write a book about this subject. Our book group rejected it on numerous occasions as just too frightening of a topic to read about. In the end most of us have read it anyway and are glad we did so. I mean, have you ever thought about what you would do and feel if one of your children ended up being a mass murderer or serial killer? Doesn't bear thinking about, does it? Well, she did. And she wrote it down.

So when her newest novel, The Post Birthday World, was published I had to be one of the first to own it. I picked it up at WHSmith in Victoria Station and was daunted by the sheer heft of the thing at 600 pages. I needn't have worried. I couldn't put the thing down (although carrying it around was a bit of a workout. I even carried this book to Rome and back with me.

This is the best book I've read since The Kite Runner. It is thought provoking and mood altering.

The story is about Irina who has been with her boyfriend, Lawrence for 10 years. They are American expatriates living in London. One evening when Lawrence is in Russia on business, Irina reluctantly agrees to take Ramsey Acton, a friend more of Lawrence's than hers out to dinner for his birthday. Ramsey his newly divorced and they've used to go out as a foursome every year for his birthday. Lawrence doesn't' think now is the time to abandon his friend. That night Irina makes a decision: to kiss Ramsey or not to kiss Ramsey. The rest of the book is an incredible tale of the two paths of her life depending on which decision she makes. In alternating chapters, the book tells of the aftermath of that kiss. The other chapters tell the tale of her resisting the temptation and returning home to Lawrence.

At first I was afraid this was going to be a high moral ground tale. But this is Lionel Shriver and nothing is as you expect. Just like in her previous book, she never reduces herself to the trite and predictable. She never takes the easy way out and she is always brutally honest. She writes down and exposes thoughts that most people would never admit to having.

I loved every character in the book. Every single one of them is flawed just like all of us but their flaws are so like mine and my friends and my husband and colleagues. I cried and got angry and felt hurt and devastation as I read and saw how each of the two lives unfolded. I wished I could see the paths my different decisions could have taken me on. What if I'd married Glen instead of Marc? What if I'd never gone back to university? What if I'd never stayed in England and opted for Saudi Arabia instead? What if I'd never had children like I'd originally planned?

The book is a lot about forgiveness and a dissection of love and what it means and sex and what that means. I highly recommend this book but be prepared. The plot is tense and requires an emotional investment. I was glad to have long airport waiting and airplane journey time. My only regret is when I started crying during one part of the book. My fellow travellers must have thought I was bonkers. Well, I guess I am a bit!


Sue said...

Welcome back, Happy belated birthday, nice report of your trip. I started making a list of the books you are reviewing. I like to read when I have time or while walking on my treadmill. Do you realize that you can read almost a whole magazine in a few days during the commercials on tv?

LaDawn said...

I've got TiVo so I never watch adverts which means I can watch a 1 hour programme in 40 minutes! Hurrah! Now, that's a time saver.

Janell said...

I've never cried in public while reading a book, but I have drawn unwanted attention to myself laughing out loud at some of Garrison Keillor's stuff.
And who is Glen? :)