Dependable “Anorak Man” and long-term partner Lawrence is away for a friend’s birthday and urges Irina to go on her own. After the celebratory meal, Irina is invited back to that friend, Ramsey Acton’s place and tempted by a kiss. “The Post-Birthday World” follows both outcomes, “as if another life were running alongside this one, perhaps no better or worse but certainly different, and she liked to reach out and touch it from time to time, like dipping her hand into the river from a canoe,” so the readers see both lives.
In the safety of the canoe, Irina stays with Lawrence, whilst regreting not kissing Ramsey. Lawrence is a research fellow at a prestigious think-tank, devoted but emotionally withdrawn, yet supportive when she needs him to be. In the river, she’s carried along with Ramsey’s hard-living snooker playerdom and sexuality. Ramsey’s elegant, passionate and has irritating mockney (not Cockney and deliberately so – read the book for the explanation) accent. Irina, being bilingual and an American in London who Lawrence frequently teases for picking up “Brit-speak”, finds it fascinating.
Lionel Shriver shows both relationships in equally intense detail, picking up on how partners say one thing, mean another and yet both manage to communicate, mostly. What draws us to our partners often becomes what we hate about them. Readers are not offered easy answers and the parallel lives follow a similar pattern. Both men are flawed and their journeys, influence on and relationships with Irina thought-provoking. That “post” in the title is apt, neither journey offers neatly-wrapped answers but both allow Irina to unwrap her men and let the reader decide which parcel she should have left wrapped.