In The Post-Birthday World we follow the life of Irina McGovern, a children's book illustrator. She is in a long term relationship with Lawrence Trainer, a terrorism expert. While Lawrence is away on business he encourages her to dine out for what was a traditional birthday dinner with their newly divorced friend, Ramsey Acton, a champion snooker player. At the end of their evening, she finds herself desperately wanting to kiss Ramsey. It is at this junction that the story splits into two versions, or two alternate universes. In one Irina does not kiss Ramsey. In the other she does.
"Lionel Shriver's wonderful new novel... creates parallel universes that indulge all our what-if speculations... Irina McGovern, a children's book illustrator... admits, "The only thing I can't live without is a man." In this case, Shriver grants her two.
The first, Lawrence Trainer, a sweetly geeky terrorism expert, offers tranquil domesticity.... For more than nine years, "monogamy had been effortless" -- until the second man turns up. He's Ramsey Acton, dazzling celebrity snooker champion and husband of Irina's collaborator, Jude. Every year on Ramsey's birthday, Irina and Lawrence dine out with Ramsey and Jude. One July, Lawrence, away on business, encourages Irina to meet Ramsey, newly divorced, for the traditional birthday ritual. After four sakes, a deluxe platter of sashimi, cognac and a joint, Irina watches Ramsey play snooker and thinks, "If Ramsey didn't kiss her, she was going to die."
The rest of the story pivots on this will-they-or-won't-they as the novel splits into alternating chapters; in one, they kiss; in another, she turns away. Who is Irina's Mr. Right? In excessive, often obsessive, detail, Shriver explores Irina's life with each candidate through the quotidian and across a larger political and social landscape that includes Bosnia, the death of Princess Diana and 9/11.....
As Irina learns that no matter what kind of man a woman picks, "she'll wonder if she wouldn't rather have the other," the accretion of details, the parsing of characters' angst, the little moments blown into big can seem like so much navel-gazing. However fascinating, the microscopic analysis of the two objects of Irina's affection can also be wearying. Nevertheless, the rewards for sticking with these 500-plus pages are as delicious as one of Irina's feasts. Copyright 2007, The Washington Post"