The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver

Enthusiastically recommended, albeit with the caveat that you have to enjoy Shriver’s loquacious style, because there is just no way around it. If you do like it, or at least don’t mind it, you’re in for a treat. Intelligent as ever, honest to the point of wincing, acutely well observed, Shriver’s prose opens epic dimensions of the ordinary life, seasoning them generously with the poetic and the tragic.

Perusing reviews of The Post-Birthday World on Goodreads I was struck by how many people disliked the repetitiveness of the two parallel storylines of the novel, and I was reminded of how much I actually enjoyed it. I think we all are to a large degree a function of circumstances and of our relationships, so much of what we do, feel, and think is a reaction — exploring the parallel universes where the same person is placed in a dialogue with different realities was fascinating and not a little eye-opening.

If the structure of this novel is quite clever, more importantly its insight is wise. It’s a book that engages the reader, and I don’t mean in the sense of captivating, because that is very personal and with Shriver’s verbose style not necessarily a given — I mean in the sense that it compels the reader’s intellectual participation. I don’t think it’s possible to consume this book senselessly as one might much of popular entertainment products, be it books or films. This book elicits constant judgement, questioning, and self-examination and it will leave you wondering and maybe a little hyperaware. And even though it’s not the open ending kind of book, if you want straight forward answers, you’ll have to give them yourself.

It’s a second novel by Lionel Shriver that I’ve read and, like We Need to Talk About Kevin, this one too stayed with me long after I finished turning the pages. I’m looking forward to Shriver’s other novels.

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