Mondays are Read This! days on which I write about books that I really, really want everyone in the world to read. Today I’m recommending “The Post-Birthday World,” by Lionel Shriver.
Shriver wrote her novel in ten chapters: one chapter 1, one chapter 10, and two each of the ones in between. The unusual structure results from Shriver’s plot device: She ends chapter 1 with a cliffhanger where the main character, Irina, has to decide whether to kiss her longtime partner’s best friend, Ramsey, whom she’s never before particularly liked. From there, the story diverges along two lines, depending on whether she does or doesn’t kiss him. The lines reconvene in chapter 10, which is the same for both.
Some UK reviewers have criticized Shriver, an American who’s lived in England for years, for lacking authenticity in Ramsey’s Cockney speech. Other reviewers criticized the book for feeling contrived. My American ears not only didn’t find anything inauthentic in the dialogue or predictable in the plot but marveled at Shriver’s capturing the most subtle of nuances in human relationships. And if the structure is contrived, so what? So’s a sonnet.
Shriver, who won the 2005 Orange Prize for “We Need To Talk About Kevin,” has a great editorial in last week’s issue of The Guardian, “I write a nasty book. And they want a girly cover on it.” She nails her own style when she says that “trussing up my novels as sweet, girly and soft is like stuffing a rottweiler in a dress.” She also gives a great interview. You can listen to one from May 2010 on the Australian Broadcasting Company’s “The Book Show” and another from the Sydney Writer’s Festival from the same month.
I’ll have more on Lionel Shriver and her work tomorrow. In the meantime, what books do you think are so good that everyone in the world should read them?