I just finished Lionel Shriver's Post Birthday World and it's almost as fine as her previous book We Need to Talk About Kevin, which I've constantly called one of the defining novels that I've read during my time here.
The hook is a simple one. Irina is a children's book illustrator who at her partners urging keeps an annual dinner date with a fellow Londoner, the rakish celebrity snooker player Ramsey Acton.
Irina's intellectual, long time partner Lawrence is a policy wonk at an emerging think tank. He is called away, unable to keep the aforementioned date. At said encounter Shriver entertains what would happen if Irina gave into temptation and kissed Ramsey, again clearly the more dynamic of the two men.
Alternating chapters detail the repercussion's of Irina's choice and the book ends with a decision made.
Some critics, most notably the dolts in the New York Times were needlessly reductive in their approach. If it sounds like I'm picking on them, fine I'm picking on them.
They blew the call.
The strength of the book lies in Shriver's utterly nervy choice not to flinch from the unsettling aspects of any long term relationship, and the fallout from a wandering eye that any of us can fall prey to. It's not for nothing that Lionel Shriver has consistently been referred to in evolutionary terms with respect to the "Chick lit" phenomenon.
She robs it of it's Sex & the City trappings and drags it into a more precarious, adult world.
Readers, uncomfortable though they may be, are entirely the better for it.
Like "Kevin", this is a book that is difficult at times, but damn near unforgettable for readers looking for more than the modern novel usually provides.
Posted by Dave